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.


Beata Beatrix

imageI have avoided writing too much on the Pre Raphaelites as 1. I am a complete bore about this subject and 2. there are much better blogs than mine out there on the subject but as I am off to Liverpool for their PreRaphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion, I couldn’t resist adding my favourite Rossetti oil painting to the blog.

The original Beata Beatrix (Blessed Beatrice) is in the Tate. Completed in 1870, Rossetti put onto canvas his feelings about his late wife, Elizabeth Siddle. The painting shows Bestrice at the moment of her death with the red dove symbolising the passing of a life and the white poppy related to Lizzie’s death by laudanum poisoning.

Rosstti was asked to replicate the painting and this photograph is of the one in the Birminam Museum & Art Gallery, which is naturally my favourite! Here the colour of the dove and poppy is reversed and there is a scene of Florence in the background where Dante and Beatrice met. The painting was unfinished at the time of Rossetti’s death and it was finished by his friend, Ford Madox Brown.

There is an irony here in that while Rossetti used this ideal representation of love to show his love for Lizzie, it is interesting to think I’ll be seeing another representation of Beatrice today in the form of Jane Morris in Salutation of Beatrice.  Perhaps love is not everlasting after all!

For more on the story of Dante and Beatrice: