From June 18 to September 4, 2011 – Art Gallery of New South Wales
Organised by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), this exhibition explores the vital role played by drawing in the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. BMAG houses one of the finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and holds the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite drawings in the world.
Works from Birmingham form the basis of the exhibition, but there are also key loans from public and private lenders in Britain.
The poetry of drawing presents watercolours as well as works in pen and ink and pencil by the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt; their mentor John Ruskin, and the second wave of Pre-Raphaelites such as Edward Burne-Jones, Frederick Sandys and Simeon Solomon. It also shows the influence that Pre-Raphaelite drawing had upon William Morris and the designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was formed in London in 1848 when a group of talented young art students banded together with the aim of changing the course of British art. These artists – Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti – were joined by four others: Rossetti’s younger brother, William Michael, the painter James Collinson, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, and the writer Frederic George Stephens. These individuals saw themselves as nothing less than revolutionaries. None was older than 23 and Millais was only 19. They were disaffected by the unoriginal training at the Royal Academy Schools. Taking as their guiding principle the idea of depicting a given subject with seriousness, sincerity and an unswerving fidelity to nature, the PRB looked back to the example of early Italian painting (pre-Raphael) as their model.
From the very beginning drawing was a core activity of the PRB. This exhibition features a number of drawings related to some of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite compositions such as Millais’ Ophelia 1852 (Tate), the painting for which Elizabeth Siddal famously posed lying in a bath of water. There are five preparatory drawings by Ford Madox Brown for his most ambitious picture, Chaucer at the Court of Edward III 1847-51.This painting was one of the very first works to be purchased by the newly established Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1876.
History, religion and literature were the PRB’s staple sources. Although their works often have a medievalist flavour, the PRB was also concerned with the representation of modern life.
The exhibition includes a section on portraits and caricatures, providing an insight into the Pre-Raphaelites’ relationships with their fellow artists, friends and lovers. Other sections are devoted to the role of the Pre-Raphaelites as illustrators of books and journals. There are also meticulously detailed images of the natural world.
Pre-Raphaelitism became increasingly concerned with the applied arts after Burne-Jones helped William Morris set up the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co in 1861. Artists became involved in the design of furniture, stained glass, fabrics, ceramics and jewellery; examples of which will be part of this exhibition.