Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion

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.

Salutation of Beatrice


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:

op30 - CopyAs 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:


Jesus Washing Peter's Feet 1852-6 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 Presented by subscribers 1893








christ-discovered-in-the-temple-1342_jpg!Blog William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_Finding_of_the_Saviour_in_the_Temple_-_Google_Art_ProjectAs 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.

Love is Enough – Andy Warhol and William Morris at Birmingham MAG

I was a little sceptical of this as I found it difficult to see the connection.  I really like Jeremy Deller, so had faith that he would deliver something special here.

I am in two minds about this exhibition.  Aesthetically, I can see the connections.  Deller said that he was looking at how politics, aestheticsm business models and iconography overlap and I quite agree.  Both men were astutely aware of how art connected with these key areas but where I had a problem was with the artwork itself.

Throughout the exhibition, the comparison art works placed Warhol next to artists linked to Morris, rather than with Morris directly.  The section headings were well thought out: Camelot, Hopes and Fears, Fears for Art, A Factory it Might Be, and Flower Power.  However, with the exception of Flower Power which put Morris’s wallpaper designs up against flower works by Warhol, the other sections used Rossetti and Burne Jones as the comparisons.

Having said that, it was wonderful to see Burne Jones’ Holy Grail Tapestries again and I so adore DGR that I will give anything just to see his work, so who am I to complain when I get what I want!

The entrance to the exhibition had the cleverest pairing I have seen: Warhol’s Joan Collins and Gabriel’s La Donna Della Finestra.  If you just compare the gaze and head tilt, it is quite astounding.  But, apart from the fact that it is Morris’s wife as muse, what is the connection to Morris?

(c) DACS/ARS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationDante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_La_Donna_Della_Finestra_(The_Lady_of_Pity)_-_Google_Art_Project

Having explored Warhol last year at Tate Liverpool, I wondered if I would see anything new in his works here.  I did appreciate the Camelot section as, although at first I thought the links a little too tenuous, on reflection, Warhol’s obsession with celebrity does resonate with the way the Pre Raphaelites obsessed over the Arthurian legends and the ‘celebrities’ within those stories.  The pieces linked to the Kennedys were worth seeing.

What did disappoint, was that William Morris was not just “an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist.” as detailed by Wikepedia, but he was an artist too, and it would have been lovely to see La Belle Iseult, and more of the stained glass that he designed with Burne Jones.

Overall, it was worth seeing the individual pieces, but I did struggle with the concept.  I am going to a talk that Jeremy Deller is giving and I would not be surprised to get the ‘penny dropping’ moment during that!

Oh, and this is my 50th post!