Five Pre-Raphaelite shows
- 15 March 2016
Seductive works by the celebrated stars of Victorian art take centre stage this spring.
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Marie Spartali Stillman was widely recognised as one of the great society beauties of her age, and she worked as a model for the artists Julia Margaret Cameron, Rossetti and Burne-Jones. But she longed to become a painter in her own right, so in 1865 she began formal lessons under the tutelage of Ford Madox Brown. Embracing the Pre-Raphaelite style, Spartali Stillman worked in watercolour and gouache, painting subjects from classical literature. Her subsequent marriage to the American journalist William James Stillman allowed her to forge important connections on the other side of the Atlantic and she became the only British Pre-Raphaelite artist to show her work in the US. Despite her success, Spartali Stillman's contribution to 19th-century art is barely recognised today, and this exhibition includes examples of her landscapes, portraits and still lifes which have not been displayed since her death.
While assessments of the Pre-Raphaelite movement remain largely London-centric, this exhibition draws on enlightening new research – supported through the Art Fund's Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant – to assert that Liverpool was in fact a key northern hub during the Victorian era. Works on display highlight the talents of the artists who lived in the area, many of whom were trained at the Liverpool Academy and displayed works at the city's influential Autumn Exhibition. It also draws attention to the key collectors and institutions whose patronage ensured the success of the famed pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.
At the same time as the emergence of photography in Britain, innovators such as JMW Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite painters were bringing revolutionary change to artistic practice. These two simultaneous events prompted a proliferation of new ideas about how pictures should be created and understood. Tate Britain's exhibition begins at this critical moment in the 19th century, drawing on some 200 works to reveal the dynamic relationship between art and photography over the following 75-year period. The influential friendship between the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the artists GF Watts and Dante Gabriel Rossetti is acknowledged in a display of the portraits they made of each other and those featuring their shared models.
The opulent Victorian interiors of Leighton House provide the setting for what is the only UK showing of an important collection of more than 100 drawings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Ranging from early preparatory sketches to highly finished masterpieces, works by Millais, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Watts, Burne-Jones and Waterhouse feature. The drawings – amassed by Dennis Lanigan, an orthognathic dentist from Saskatoon in Saskatchewan – were recently gifted to the National Gallery of Canada and are making a rare journey to London before returning to their new home. Highlights include several pieces by Frederic Leighton – the Victorian artist, Pre-Raphaelite champion and Royal Academy president who lived at the property and decorated the house in its stunning Arabic style.
From the late 18th century Shakespeare’s plays were a hugely popular source of inspiration for painters – perhaps most famously for the Pre-Raphaelites, who used his writings as the primary subject of their work. To mark the anniversary of the Bard's death, Compton Verney, in his home county of Warwickshire, examines Shakespearean-themed art, bringing together paintings by Rossetti and Watts with contemporary pieces by the likes of Tom Hunter, whose photographic series reimagines A Midsummer’s Night Dream in modern-day Hackney.