When it came out that the Walker were putting on a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, I was a tad excited: what’s not to like here! It was tantalising to wonder whether there would be anything that would grab my attention as I’ve been to a few of these over the years.
I really liked the idea of showing paintings that were linked to Liverpool, either by being shown in the Liverpool Academy shows, being bought by the growing band of industrialists in the city or being the inspiration of local artists.
The news came out that a “never seen in public” work by DGR was going to be a star attraction and while the Salutation of Beatrice was interesting, I wasn’t bowled over by its appearance. Instead, that honour goes to a painting I have seen several times at the Lady Lever Gallery, and that is William Holman Hunt’s ‘The Scapegoat’:
This work by Hunt has held a fascination for me and so when I got to see it at the Lady Lever, it was quite exciting, but here’s the thing: At the Walker, the lighting has picked out all of the glorious detail Hunt put into this work. He painted it at the Dead Sea and the background is exquisite with the sun setting over the mountain range. Hunt, ever the perfectionist, decided to bring back some of the salty mud back with him for a goat to stand in while he completed the work. With this new lighting, you can almost sense the fear of the goat standing there waiting for death. The legs almost tremble before you and the eyes are bright with terror. It really is an incredible piece of work.
I am not always a fan of religious paintings, but it would seem that the religious paintings of Hunt and of Ford Madox Brown are the standout works in this exhibition.
Ford Madox Brown’s First Translation of the Bible into English was a joy to behold:
As was his ‘Jesus washing Peter’s Feet’. The original version of this had Jesus in just a loin cloth and, prior to showing it, Madox Brown was persuaded to clothe him for propriety’s sake:
As a reminder of what the PRB were trying to achieve, the very first work is this panel by Simone Martin from 1342. The flat panel with its gold background, lack of perspective was seen as unsellable in the early 1800s, but this is what the PRB saw as the way forward – a return to the strong narrative, rich colour and, with their desire to return to portraying nature as it is, they began their journey.
Why these two stood out was the fact that Simone Martin showed us a very personal, family scene of a young boy being told off by his parents – the petulant look on the face of the young Jesus is priceless. Immediately, it brought to mind Holman Hunt’s ‘The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple’, which is also in the exhibition.
This was a very enjoyable exhibition and I would recommend going on the days when there is a guided tour.