Sunday, 13 February 2011

Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition

I still haven't forgotten Walking part II, but I wanted to try and write about the wonderful Exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind.

If anyone lives close enough, I can certainly recommend it. My daughter and I spent nearly two hours slowly examining and enjoying the wonderful drawings, and the few end-product paintings on display. If only we had had time to take in the entire Art Gallery and Museum displays, but sadly we had to travel onwards.

The quality of the drawings was enough to deter me from EVER trying to draw again. A few lines and a figure came to life, showing emotions, attitude, tension, despair, love . . .

One painting drew me like no other - Holman Hunt's painting of a birds nest with primroses and apple blossom. The detail on it was exquisite. Minute detail - as of sunlight catching strands of moss, and the apple blossom was so perfect it looked like it had just fallen on the painting from the tree . . . I would love a print of that. Nearby was a painting of a Gentian (by John Brett) and again, the most miniscule detail made it look as if you could reach out and pick it.

As I said, it was primarily an exhibition of drawings, but included designs, studies and watercolours. I was thrilled to see it included the work of Aubrey Beardesley, who was greatly influenced by earlier Pre-Raphaelite artists. I always admired his work, having been introduced to it by a girl I went to school with, who had a passion for his work.

There were designs by William de Morgan, and the most fabulous Medieval style table by William Burges (he of Cardiff Castle design fame). You could tell it was his work the moment you set eyes on it.

We feasted on the most wonderful painting by Arthur Hughes, The Long Engagement, and I swear you could FEEL the velvet of the girl's mauvey-lilac cloak, and the sheen on the satin petticoat as it fell in delicate folds rippled across the painting.

Ford Madox Brown's The Last of England starred, I believe, the artist himself and his wife as the couple leaving the Old World for the New, and the little hand of their child clasped in his mother's hand, as her other gloved hand is held by her husband as they sit, surrounded by a fringe of cabbages obviously destined to be eaten on the voyage. A strange border for a painting!

The artists were not above the mockery and contempt of others, however, and there was a clever parody of Millais' Sir Isumbras at the Ford, where Frederick Sandys had drawn a grizzled donkey being ridden by Millais as the knight, a small Dante Rosetti in front of him on the pommel and an even smaller Holman Hunt on the donkey's rump.

But of course, the drawings took centre stage and Millais' detailed drawing of Elizabeth Siddal for his painting of Ophelia will be forever stamped in my memory for the quality of the drawing, her slightly parted lips, unfocused eyes and arched eyebrows. Superb.

Sadly, for a posting about such wonderful pictures. I have no illustrations. I hope you will go and find out for yourselves. . .


  1. A few pre-Raphaelite pictures

    I love them. And I love Bimingham Museum and Art Gallery. Must go and see this exhibition. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The exhibition sounds wonderful.

    I used to love visiting the Pre Raphaelites in the Tate when I lived in London, including Ophelia. All those tiny and exquisitely painted flowers in the brook, as well as beautiful Lizzie Siddal ( who was apparently made to lie in a bath for hours when Millais painted this scene, after which she was VERY ill!).

    Thank you for your descriptions. I love The Long Engagement, and The Last of England too.

    If you are ever in Bristol, La Belle Dame Sans Merci is in the Art Gallery. Another stunning painting. I used to visit it, to stand and stare, when I worked up the hill from there.

  3. T&J hope to move to Bristol in a couple of years' time. We just have the print of La Belle Dame Sans Merci in the meantime. . . .