Go see this: Pre-Raphaelites, Victorian Avant-Garde

John Everett Millais, Ophelia

For me, this exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites is the BEST thing to go and see this autumn. It’s because I love the style, but it’s a great collection of paintings and if you are a fashion girl I do feel it is one NOT to miss.

Not only are the paintings full of exquisite, almost photographic representations of  sumptuous fabrics, textiles, colours, nature and interior decorations of the Victorian period, but they are so full of drama and passion. The Pre-Raphs loved a bit of drama, they were radical, worthy chaps (the Pre-Raph brotherhood only allowed men into the ranks) with flowing curly locks and double barrelled names that were forever falling in and out of love with each others wives and girlfriends. Their love of a good story comes across in the art, with lots of strong narrative behind each painting.

But what struck me this time was the real love they all had of strong colour, textiles and jewellery. Coral necklaces were a favourite, it seems to go so well with all that flowing hair.

Full picture Dante Gabriel Rossetti, details clockwise from top right, Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt

And then the jewellery, lots of cabochon cut gems such as amethyst and emeralds and fabulous hair brooches.

clockwise from main pic Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt

The exciting addition to this exhibition is the textiles and pottery associated with the group, mostly made by William Morris. The stunning carved bed from Kelmscott Manor -where Morris once lived, is here with its beautiful hand embroidered coverlet, I would have come from a long way away just to see this. The women in the Pre-Raph movement were big embroiderers, Jane Morris, William’s wife and May, his daughter were responsible for building Morris & Co’s reputation as a centre of excellence for embroideries and tapestries.

Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin fame, owns this tapestry below, it’s one of two he lent to the show. If you go watch out for the beautiful detailed flowers at the bottom, they are magically worked stitches of botanic perfection.

Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John Henry Dearle

And then there’s the interior and textile detail. The fabrics in these painting below just glow with intensity.

William Holman Hunt, Isabella and the Pot of Basil

The colours are also really sensational, the Pre Raph’s use of colour caused a bit of a panic amongst the art establishment of the day, with some people referring to the strong bright shades as ‘garish’. I just love them, they are so rich and jewel like.

William Holman Hunt, The Children’s Holiday

This painting detail below, from The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown with the fuchsia scarf billowing out from the oatmeal cape, and that little glimpse of peony satin and jade green from her dress tucked underneath, has got me all excited about winter clothes colours.

Ford Madox Brown, The Last of England

There are lots of Fortuny style dresses and mythical story telling in the last room of the exhibition, with some stunning Edward Burne-Jones paintings, The room is busy with knights heading off on romantic quests and gorgeous girls languishing in crumpled silk. It’s enough to set the heart a-flutter.

Edward Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris

The Pre-Raphaelites, Victorian Avant-Garde is on at Tate Britain until 15th Jan 2013. Website here

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  • Sue says:

    Amanda,I totally agree.Went yesterday and was completely impressed.I might have to go again.The colours! I loved all the different groupings of paintings and the emboidery and stained glass were just fab.Oddest for me was realising that the painters I like best now were Brown,Holman Hunt and Millais – the exact opposite of when I was young.By the time I’d done an M.A in Symbolist poetry I think I’d had more than enough of all that pale loitering.(Chelsea Physic Garden was very lovely too.)Xsue

  • Amanda says:

    Oh Sue glad you enjoyed both. I too might have to go again. Ax

  • Amanda says:

    Marv, I believe the Pre-raphs would have run a mile from you too, you are far too efficient , competent and never in need of saving from drowning in a pond or from some mythical dragon creature. I suspect you might have won them over with your knitting skills tho. On a serious note, at least the women ARE a touch bigger than the skinny lasses we see in media today. A

  • sarah says:

    Having lived in the country for so long, going to London has assumed an almost mythic quality- like going on a dangerous expedition . So busy, so dangerous, so expensive.
    I wanted to revist the PRB when I heard the exibition was on, but your post has made me determined to go. I will be brave and fight off cut-purses with my umbrella.

  • Jools says:

    Amanda, just a point of housekeeping but the Pre-Raphaelites Exhibition is at Tate Britain not Tate Modern. As you were. ; )

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