Beyond the Brotherhood: Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition Update

23rd February 2020
We are really very fortunate here in the UK to have so many excellent art galleries outside of the Capital. And two of these, situated along the south coast of England, are currently sharing an exhibition called Beyond the Brotherhood. It has been at the Southampton City Art Gallery until quite recently, and this week it moves down the road to the Russell Cotes in Bournemouth.
two buildings housing art galleries, one modern, the other victorian
Joint Exhibition at the two galleries: Southampton City and Russell Cotes.
You can find an earlier post here on Endymion about the exhibition catalogue. I like these paintings especially because so many of them tell a story. And during my recent visit (Southampton), I realised I had a new favourite work from the era. Here it is.
painting showing young couple, she seated playing keyboard, he listening, medieval dress
'Harmony' by Frank Bernard Dicksee, 1877.

'Harmony' by Frank Dicksee (1853-1928)

It’s a bit of a cliché to say, but true: that there is just no comparison between seeing images of great paintings in books or on the internet to actually seeing them in real life. Here, the rendering of all the different textures and materials is spectacular, almost overwhelming - from the woodwork and the red curtain with the light percolating through, to the shiny floor tiles and the leather shoe of the young man whose foot is resting on the seat. The two figures are also so natural and informal. It’s little wonder the work was given pride of place by the Royal Academy when it was first exhibited there in 1877, and also voted Picture of the Year.
close up of painting showing shoe
Just look at that shoe!

The Message? Yes, of course there's a message!

But great paintings are not just about technical mastery. They are about the message, the thoughts you take away from them. Dicksee often painted historical or Shakespearean subjects. And he was also a rare beast amid the Victorian artscape insofar as he sometimes managed to convey profound ideas through humour.

Here we see a young woman engrossed in her music, almost oblivious to her surroundings. The young man is listening, but seems far more captivated by the charms of his companion than anything else. The stained-glass window behind also suggests the location is inside a chapel or church. Perhaps it's not the kind of place the rather splendidly attired young gentleman would normaly spend too much time in. But now he knows he will have to change. He will have to 'up his game' and somehow be a better person. It is one of those inevitable coming-of-age moments, a painting about the redeeming power of love - understood all over the world and in every culture. And the young man here is quite helpless and stunned in its presence.
close up of painting showing faces of couple, he glancing at her

And now for something completely different ...

I was never entirely sure whether I liked this one until I saw it at the exhibition - 'Love Betrayed' - a strange painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829–1908).  But I quite like it now.
painting of numerous cupids cavorting in an urban Renaissance-style landscape
'Love Betrayed' by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope.
Stanhope, considered to be a later, 'second wave' Pre-Raphaelite and adherent of the Aesthetic movement, was aided and inspired by the original Pre-Raphaelite artists. He knew them well. He was also a friend of G.F.Watts and spent much time in Italy where he was quite intentionally influenced by the ancient works of Renaissance painters such as Botticelli.

Much of this influence, a blend of Christian and Mythological themes, can be seen in his unworldly compositions.  Here, a winged angel or cupid, rendered blind, as cupids are, of course, is heading towards a young woman. But the bridge he is about to cross is broken and he will fall to his death. Pretty odd - to say the least.

So what's it all about?

Its a trait that probably makes them all the more intriguing, but Victorian painters do seem to have spent much of their creative output trying to reconcile their sexuality with their Christian (or otherwise spiritual) beliefs. And this astonishing work in all its peculiar glory is no exception. There is not just one amor or cupid here, but dozens – perhaps numberless cupids, all coming to grief in one way or another in the background.
painting close up of cupids tumbling down hill
An onrush of cupids. They just can't wait.
The woman herself, meanwhile, doesn’t seem unduly bothered. It is just something she accepts as inevitable, and not really her fault in any sense.
painting close up young woman in medieval style clothing, head slightly downward looking
'Oh dear! Here comes another one.'
Perhaps it is a comment on our wanton disregard for the miracle of creation - the average healthy male’s moment of pleasure, biologists assure us, providing sufficient vital seed to populate much of the world if divided up carefully enough. The process of sexual attraction seems to be treated here with both dark humour and a noble acceptance of human folly. In a sense it is the very opposite of the previous work mentioned above. But no less amazing in its technical brilliance.

And lots, lots more

So two very different approaches and interpretations of the concept of love in these two paintings. But that is just a part of it - because the Pre-Raphaelites and their descendants really were intent on exploring the great spectrum of love in all its forms and variations.

For example, there is this ...
head and shoulder double portrait, showing profiles of two biblical figures
'Annunciation' by Simeon Solomon, 1892.
And of course this ...
young woman, semi-nude with red hair and apple
'Venus Verticordia' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, c.1868.
And Mr Rossetti is further represented by his astonishingly intricate wood-cut depiction of the closing lines of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott. (It is so small when you see it, it really is a marvel.)
black and white wood engraving of knight looking over body of lady in a boat
Wood engraving from the Moxon 'Lady of Shalott'

The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy

Elsewhere in the exhibition the notion of ‘the legacy’ (the sub-title of the exhibition) takes us through the 20th century right up to the present, with some spectacular examples of graphics used in the movie industry and computer games, much of which, we are told, has a distinct pre-raphaelite flavour. It certainly has the draughtsmanship.

The paintings on display include loans from Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Academy. So this really is a rare opportunity to see lots of wonderful stuff all in one place. It runs at the Russell Cotes in Bournemouth until 21st June 2020.
poster to an art exhibition shows young woman, eyes downward looking to mirror
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

Regarding Dixie's painting, so great and enduring was its popularity that it even inspired later illustrators in the commercial sector. Here it is in 1910 in the unmistakable style of by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), an American artist whose work became extremely popular during the early years of the 20th century. The young women he portrayed in so many magazines and advertisements of the time were instantly recognisable and became known as the Gibson Girls.
two illustrations side by side each showing a young couple, she playing on keyboards, he listening

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Arthur Hughes. The 'quiet' Pre-Raphaelite
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The Blind Girl - a painting by John Everett Millais
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The Arrow Chest. Pre-Raphaelite themed story.
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Victorian Art
John Atkinson Grimshaw - painter of moonlight.
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