Published: July 25, 2006
“Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum,” will open at the Frick Art Museum on July 29 with paintings, drawings and decorative art objects from the most significant collection outside the United Kingdom. It will be on view through October 8.
With almost 130 examples of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, ceramics, jewelry and furniture, the Delaware collection spans most of the Victorian period from the young Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s (1828-1882) practice work through paintings by Edward Burns-Jones (1833-1898) completed just before his death in 1898. This extraordinary collection was acquired by Samuel Bancroft, Jr (1840-1915), a textile manufacturer and patron of the arts who bought his first work, Rossetti’s “Water Willow,” in 1890. He collected other Pre-Raphaelite works throughout the decade and his heirs donated his collection to the Delaware Art Museum.
The Pre-Raphaelites were students of Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) at the British Royal Academy in 1848 when Rossetti, William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and John Everett Millais (1829-1896) joined with other young men whose ambitions rebelled against the current artistic conventions and standards of the academy. They looked to a time before the Renaissance master Raphael (1483-1520) for artistic influence, believing that those artists worked in a more honest, straightforward manner.
As the Nineteenth Century progressed, the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood developed their own styles following ideals of the medieval period or inspired by Arthurian legends, Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare. History, legend, Biblical stories and ancient mythology were joined by the influence of English Romantic poets such as Byron, Keats and Tennyson for symbolism, sentiment and narrative. Exotic places, especially the Orient inspired luxurious interiors and jeweled subjects.
The Pre-Raphaelites were the direct inspiration to WilliamMorris’s (1834-1896) Arts and Crafts movement. Believing in thehandcrafted object and the alliance of literature with the visualarts, Morris’s close friendship and working relationship withRossetti and Burne-Jones resulted in the production of furniture,books and household objects inspired by “medieval” design. Twochairs in the exhibit demonstrate this collaboration: “The Armingof the Knight,” 1857-1858, and “Glorious Guendolen’s Golden Hair,”1856, were designed by Morris and decorated by Rossetti.
Other highlights on view include Millais’ “The Waterfall,” 1853, and “A Highland Lassie,” 1854, Brown’s “Hampstead – A Sketch from Nature,” 1857, and Frederick Sandys’ “Mary Magdalene,” 1858-1860. Portraits represented a spectrum of approaches to the face and character of the subject. Albert Moore’s “The Green Butterfly” is typical of his female figures, delicate in color and timeless in expression.
Literary motifs abound in Brown’s “Romeo and Juliet,” 1870, and “The Corsair’s Return (1871-81). Works by Rossetti form the cornerstone of the exhibit. From early works like “Bottles,” 1848, to his religious watercolors including “Mary in the House of St John,” 1858, and his group of increasingly nonnarrative paintings with female figures in mysterious, often trancelike states like “Lady Lilith,” 1868, “Veronica Veronese,” 1872, and “Mary Mgdalene,” 1877, Rossetti reflected his interior life in his work. Known as “Stunners,” Rossetti’s women are a hallmark of the Pre-Raphaelite style.
“Waking Dreams” was organized by Stephen Wildman, curator of the Ruskin Library, Lancaster University, England. It is accompanied by a 396-page soft cover catalog with essays on a variety of aspects of the collection and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ($49.95).
The Frick Art Museum is at 7227 Reynolds Street. For more information 412-371-0600 or www.frickart.org.
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