The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours

Those of you living in the UK (or visiting) are in for a real treat this month. From January 29, 2011 to May 15, 2011, The Birmingham Museum is hosting what promises to be “the largest survey of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and watercoulours ever staged.” The museum has assembled works Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s world-class collections, together with important pieces from public and private lenders, including some works by D.G. Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and Edward Burne-Jones that have never previously been exhibited. The exhibit, entitled The Poetry of Drawing, will place special emphasis on the important role that drawing played in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

The Poetry of Drawing will include pieces from the most prominent members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, including all the original members of the PRB, Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones, Frederick Sandys and Simeon Solomon. Later artists, such as Aubrey Beardsley, who were influenced by the Brotherhood are also included, as are the Arts and Crafts contributions of William Morris, William de Morgan and Florence Camm.

For those of you who are unable to attend, the exhibition’s curator has created an illustrated volume entitled Pre-Raphaelite Drawing. The book will be published by Thames and Hudson. I would love to see this exhibit in person, but if I don’t get the chance, I will definitely be looking into the catalogue!

For more information and ticket prices, please visit the Birmingham Museum’s exhibition website.

Image above is William Morris’ sketch for his Trellis wallpaper design.

Did the Pre-Raphaelites Suffer from “Blurred Vision?”

This morning I came across a less-than-enthused review of “The Pre-Raphaelite Lens” in the Washington Post. In the article, Andy Grundberg criticized what he termed the “blurred vision” of the Pre-Raphaelites. And while Grundberg retained some admiration for the work done by Pre-Raphaelite landscape artists, he condemned the Brotherhood with broad strokes, arguing that “its members claimed to be interested in realism and truth” but were “far more taken with notions of fiction and theatricality.”

Grundberg was a photography critic for the New York Times for many years, so it’s not surprising that he prefers the Pre-Raphaelites landscapes and photography to their paintings. But his criticism of the PRB is pretty standard. Many modern viewers can appreciate the work of artists like John William Inchbold (whose photograph-quality painting of Anstey’s Cove is pictured here), and even Ford Maddox Brown, but remain perplexed by the romanticism of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

I was particularly struck by Grundberg’s backhanded compliment that Julia Margaret Cameron and Henry Peach Robinson had “managed against odds to transcend their subjects’ goofy origins in Arthurian legend.” So now it’s “goofy” to be inspired by myths and legend? Greek myth has inspired countless artists and is (quite rightly) not regarded as a “goofy” source of inspiration. Why should ancient British myths be seen differently?

Mythology is such a rich source of inspiration for artists, and it saddens me to see it dismissed off-hand. Many members of the PRB were actually very interested in a “modern” approach to art and design. They recognized that British art had become mired in convention and instead attempted to use the classics as a foundation to build from that would allow them break free from traditions that had become oppressive to artists. Even William Morris, whose passion for the middle ages is well-known, was not attempting to imitate medieval design, but to use it as a source of inspiration to create a better future.

Apparently, people today are confused that a a group that claimed to be visionary would lean so heavily on mythology and the classics for inspiration. Contemporary artists and (and their adoring critics) have the hubris to claim that they have re-invented the wheel, or are totally unencumbered by the influence of others from the past (the Young British Artists come to mind). And while this unfettered arrogance is intriguing, and can sometimes produce fascinating work, it also runs the risk of alienating the public with its hollow promise of unbridled innovation. A connection to the past and an understanding of our collective unconscious is not “goofy” – it’s a fundamental part of the creative process.

Pre-Raphaelite exhibits at Oxford and Cambridge: Pre-Raphaelites and Italy and Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by John Brett

My family and I enjoyed a wonderful–if slightly frenetic–weekend visiting family in Washington state. It was quite the whirlwind weekend – shopping, a wedding and visiting a couple of friends. We had a great time though. Seattle is a beautiful city, and Washington is so pretty in general…but it did go by so quickly that the whole thing was a bit of a blur. Fortunately, Edmonton was so cloudy when I got back that I feel like I’m still in Washington! The strangest part is that, even though I was only gone for a weekend, when I returned, Edmonton was already in the middle of Autumn. Trees are changing colors and losing their leaves already! I’m excited though – Fall really is one of my favourite times of year. 

Autumn will always call to mind the beginning of Fall classes, and now that I’m no longer in school, I tend to look for stand-ins. And usually that means new museum exhibitions! I received an email from a reader (thank you, Phillip), about two upcoming Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions in England. One is being held at Cambridge, the other at Oxford. Where better to soak up a bit of the excitement of the back-to-school atmosphere than at two Pre-Raphaelite art exhibits at England’s top universities? 

The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy will be held at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and is scheduled to run from September 16 – December 5, 2010. The exhibit will feature works by John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a host of other Pre-Raphaelite luminaries, and will examine the relationship these artists had with Italy. (For example, I find it fascinating that, while Rossetti grew up speaking Italian in an Italian-English home, he never actually visited Italy himself. Ruskin, on the other hand, was a frequent visitor and champion of Italian art and culture). This promises to be an excellent opportunity to see a number of Pre-Raphaelite works held by museums around the globe. 

The second exhibit I would like to share with readers is entitled Objects of Affection: Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by John Brett. John Brett is best known for his landscape paintings, but his portraits are the main focus of this exhibit. Interestingly, Brett was also a pioneer in the field of photography, and his photographic portraits will also be on display. This show is being held at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum and runs from now until November 28, 2010. 

These exhibits look so interesting, and I must say I’m excited to see Pre-Raphaelites being the focus of simultaneous showcases at Oxford and Cambridge. Now, if only they would focus a bit on improving the online version of these exhibits for those of us who are a bit too busy with our families to cross the ocean to see them in person…

John Brett, Val d’Aosta, 1858 – image courtesy Wikimedia

New Theodor von Holst Exhibition in Cheltenham

A new exhibition featuring the works of English Romantic painter Theodor von Holst will be on display until December 11, 2010 at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham.

Theodor von Holst is thought to have influenced the Pre-Raphaelites and when you see his paintings, you’ll know why. (Theodor von Holst is not that well known, but you probably have heard of his grand nephew, Gustav Holst). Dante Gabriel Rossetti admired Holst’s work, and the exhibition will feature a number of Rossetti’s works in addition to 50 drawings and paintings by Theodor von Holst. 

It looks like it will be a great opportunity to find out more about von Holst, as well as to see some of Rossetti’s works up close. If anyone has a chance to go, please let us know how it was! 

For more information, please visit the exhibition website.

Image courtesy wikimedia

Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys

If you haven’t already seen it, take a moment to visit Stephanie Pina’s Lizzie Siddal blog to read Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers: Rossetti and Siddal. Stephanie found a 14 volume set of Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys at a local bookshop and she’s taken the time to transcribe and scan Hubbard’s rendition of the story of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal. I had a wonderful time reading it – it’s a charming and entertaining version of the story. I found Hubbard’s non-judgmental approach to Rossetti quite refreshing (you could say he tries a little too hard to make excuses for him, but I think Rossetti has enough critics). The story can also be found in Volume 13 of Hubbard’s Little Journeys, which is available on Project Gutenberg (along with a number of his other writings).

Those of you who are familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States will recognize Elbert Hubbard as one of the founders of the Roycrofters and the Roycroft Press. (His magazine, The Philistine, which was published by the Roycroft Press, is nearly as well known as the The Germ). Hubbard was heavily influenced by William Morris’ philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the Roycroft community in East Aurora, New York, was probably the most ardent attempt to see Morris’ socialist vision put into practice in the real world. His art colony may not have survived, but his writings remain available to readers as a window into his world.