Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

Last weekend I flew to DC to see the major exhibit, Pre-Raphaelities:  Victorian Art and Design. DC is the only North American city where the exhibit is showing (having started in London, it next moves on to Moscow and Tokyo) so I felt really lucky to have family nearby, which made it easier to go.

I’d seen some of the paintings before at the Tate, and at the Holman Hunt exhibit a few years ago, which came to Toronto.  But this exhibit was really marvelous in terms of the sheer number of paintings from many different galleries, some of which I may never have a chance to see again.  Working in disability studies, I was especially happy to see Millais’s The Blind Girl (1856), which is at Birmingham.

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Victorian Curiosities at the Courtauld Gallery

Back in May, I went to see the exhibit, “Life, Legend, Landscape: Victorian Drawings and Watercolours” at the Courtauld Gallery in London. Many were works apparently shown for the first time. There were some beautiful Turner watercolours depicting Swiss scenes, such as “The Fall of the Rhone at Schffhausen” and “Brunnen, Lake Lucerne.”

I was most struck, though, by the female portraits, like William Etty’s chalk drawing “Female Nude with a Cast of the Venus De Medici” from 1835-7. An exploration of the real and the ideal, the illustration shows a nude model standing next to, and embracing, the cast of Venus. Oddly, though, the female forms are almost entirely identical, so that the painting doesn’t seem to reveal the shock of the real woman in contrast to the idealized sculpture. Continue reading “Victorian Curiosities at the Courtauld Gallery”