The Museum’s Pre-Raphaelites…

March 7, 2014

The Museum’s Pre-Raphaelites included in National Gallery Exhibition!

In August of last year I traveled to London to escort three of our paintings from the Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite art for display at an exhibition at Tate Britain entitled Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. Because I arrived well before the exhibition opening I was only able to view a few of the pieces which would make up the final display, placed around the exhibition galleries waiting to be installed along with ours.

Last week I was able to view the show in its full glory at the National Gallery in Washington, where it opened in mid-February (under a slightly different title, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900). In addition to the three paintings we loaned to the Tate‑‑Frederick Sandys’ Mary Magdalene and two paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lady Lilith and Found– we also sent The Arming of a Knight, one of our treasured chairs designed jointly by Rossetti and William Morris.

rossetti_lilith_1935-29The exhibition in Washington (which runs through May 19) is absolutely sumptuous! It is divided thematically into six sections: Origins, Literature, Nature, Beauty, Paradise, and Mythologies. The first gallery includes John Everett Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents (Tate), the painting which raised the critical call to arms when exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850 for its gritty genre-like depiction of a religious subject. It was this painting that goaded Charles Dickens’ scathing review in his weekly magazine Household Words. From this tour de force opening salvo, the visitor is overwhelmed with one Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece after another. Upon rounding the corner into the fourth gallery the Museum’s Found appears in a row of scenes illustrating the plight of the fallen woman. Found, the depiction of a young countrywoman fallen on hard times collapsed at a London street corner, appears on a wall which includes William Holman Hunt’s Awakening Conscience (Tate), a scene of a ‘kept’ woman’s realization of her fallen state, and John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s Thoughts of the Past (Tate), depicting a prostitute in her room deep in thought, just after the departure of a client. These three paintings tell a compelling story of the toll taken on women as a rapidly developing industrial economy superseded rural lifestyles.

On a slightly more cheerful note, just a bit further on, in the room devoted to Beauty, our Lady Lilith and Mary Magdalene share wall space with icons such as William Holman Hunt’s gorgeous Il dolce far Niente (Schaeffer Collection). Throughout the exhibition sculpture and photography associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement enrich our understanding of the influence of this group of artists across multiple media and methods. This concept is further demonstrated in the room following devoted to the decorative arts, in which our chair shares space with another jointly crafted object, Phillip Webb and Edward Burne-Jones’  exquisite Backgammon Players’ Cabinet (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

This exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art was designed as a follow-up to the first major show devoted to the movement (also held at the Tate) in 1984. The curators of the current exhibition set out to address the substantial scholarship inspired by the earlier show, a goal achieved with great success. The inclusion of decorative arts, photography and work by female artists are just a few of the aspects of the movement brought to light by recent research and placed on display in London and Washington.

In case you haven’t gathered, I found the exhibition absolutely exhilarating and I encourage everyone to make a trip to Washington before May 19!

Margaretta S. Frederick Chief Curator/Curator, Bancroft Collection

Lady Lilith, 1866-68 (altered 1872-73) Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) Oil on canvas, 38 x 33 1/2 inches Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935 

This Curator Corner was posted on March 7, 2014.

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