'Edwardian Opulence’ Up At Yale Center For British Art

Giovanni Boldini, “Portrait of a Lady (Mrs Lionel Phillips),” 1903, oil on canvas, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane.

NEW HAVEN, CONN. — The Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) has launched its 2013 season with “Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century,” the first major international exhibition in more than a generation to survey visual and decorative arts in Britain during the short and important transitional reign of King Edward VII (1901–1910).

The exhibition, on view  through June 2, immerses visitors in the sumptuousness of British art and society immediately before World War I, while encouraging them to consider the multifaceted character of the era that fostered such material lavishness. On view are be approximately 170 objects, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, furniture, jewelry, costume and decorative arts by both British and international artists and designers, such as John Singer Sargent, William Nicholson, Carl Fabergé and Cartier jewelers.

Sandwiched between the Victorian era and the Great War, Edwardian England — lately made popular by the wildly successful British series, Downton Abbey — has been difficult to define, characterized by marked dualities. One view holds that the period was a lingering coda of the Victorian era that resisted the advent of the Modern. The opposite view maintains that it was a period of tremendous social and technological change that affected every aspect of British life.

“Edwardian Opulence” shows that these are merely two points on either end of a spectrum along which new perspectives of art and culture may be plotted. According to Angus Trumble, co-curator of the exhibition, “Recalling the immediate accession of his grandfather, King Edward, in 1901, the Duke of Windsor remarked that it was ‘as if a Viennese hussar had suddenly burst into an English vicarage,’ yet the same moment heralded the arrival of America as a global economic and political power. Both changes were immediately apparent in the lavishness, variety and international complexion of British art and design in that brief period.”

“Edwardian Opulence” includes a greater diversity of media than ever before seen in a single exhibition on the subject. On view are combinations of luxury objects from the fine and decorative arts, highlighting the production, consumption and display of the cultural elite. From an ornate gown belonging to Lady Curzon, Vicereine of India, together with four lavish fans, the Manchester tiara and portraits by Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, to nine remarkable silk decorations by Charles Conder from the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, which have been recently repaired and conserved, and have not been shown since 1895, the exhibition addresses lingering questions of defining the period’s taste, style and visual culture.

Ambitious in scope and visually stimulating, “Edwardian Opulence” has been organized by the Yale Center for British Art and features key loans from private collections and public institutions around the world.

Trumble, senior curator of paintings and sculpture at YCBA, co-curated the exhibition with Andrea Wolk Rager, visiting assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book published by the Yale Center for British Art in association with Yale University Press (2013, 420 pages), $59.95 available at YCBA gift store.

YCBA is at 1080 Chapel Street, and is free and open to the public. For information, www.britishart.yale.edu or 203-432-2800

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