Sumptuous but still syrupy – Pre-Raphaelites at Tate

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Lady Lilith, 1866-1868

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Lady Lilith, 1866-1868
Oil on canvas
Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935

Tate Britain promises a radical new interpretation of the Pre-Raphaelites with their exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (until 13 Jan), but judging by the throngs of viewers no such review is needed. The public obviously adores them anyway, but I have to admit to being one of the cynics who finds them often little more than Victorian pin-ups, sticky, sweet and syrupy, their women lionesses with rather masculine jaws and rugged shoulders, the colour bordering on crude, the subjects twee and the morality irritating. However, this is a massive show and one which explores the full trajectory of the movement, from its roots to the final swansong from Holman Hunt, his psychedelic The Lady of Shalott 1886-1905 which has been coaxed from an American museum for this occasion. I challenge anyone not to find at least one ravishingly beautiful painting among this enormous array. For me it was an evocative October landscape of a lake, owned by Andrew Lloyd-Weber, who apparently has a large collection of works. Among the range of exhibits are textiles, stained glass and furniture, showing their influence on the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris. It’s a sumptuously rich show, proving the popularity of a movement that pursued beauty for its own sake, among a public that perhaps finds a sad lack of it today.

William Holman Hunt The Lady of Shalott 1886-1905

William Holman Hunt
The Lady of Shalott 1886-1905
Wadsworth Altheneum. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1961.470

Installation shot of William Morris's Bed Courtesy Society of Antiquaries of London, and Kelmscott Manor

Installation shot of William Morris’s Bed
Courtesy Society of Antiquaries of London, and Kelmscott Manor

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