Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection – Leighton House Museum

This article was first published (without images) in The Courtauldian.

Leighton House Museum’s latest exhibition is a commemoration of a promised gift to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, from one of the most significant private collections in North America. The group of eighty drawings was collected by Dr Dennis T. Lanigan, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon whose fascination with Victorian art stemmed from a chance visit to the major Edward Burne-Jones retrospective in 1976 at the Hayward Gallery. Supplemented by a selection of forty-two other drawings from the collections of the National Gallery of Canada and Leighton House Museum itself, the exhibition is a celebration of Victorian draughtsmanship and design.

Five broad sections attempt to group the drawings into loose, poetic themes scattered in various rooms around Lord Frederic Leighton’s former residence. Although the title emphasises the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – founded in September 1848 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais – the drawings, in fact, encompass a much wider circle which included the Arts & Crafts and the Aesthetic movements.

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William Holman Hunt, Study for The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro, a Scene from Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes, 1848. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Perhaps the most important work in the Lanigan Collection, William Holman Hunt’s study for The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro (1848) marks the very beginnings of the Brotherhood’s genesis. The painting, now in the Guildhall Art Gallery, was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1848. It illustrated the penultimate stanza of Keats’ poem The Eve of St Agnes. Rossetti, being an admirer of Keats, noticed Hunt’s painting at the exhibition and introduced himself to the artist on 10th May. Hunt and Millais were already friends, having both prepared their Royal Academy exhibition paintings in the latter’s studio in 1847-48 – Millais’ painting Cymon and Iphigenia (1848) was rejected, whereas Hunt’s painting was accepted. The drawing exhibits the medievalist ‘outline style’ which characterised the movement’s first phase. Using strong outlines and minimal modelling, it was committed to narrative clarity and emotional connection between protagonists, reacting to the tradition of perfectly rendered forms expected by the Royal Academy.

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John Everett Millais, Portrait of Effie Ruskin, c. 1853. Image via www.preraphaelitesisterhood.com

The collection encompasses a very wide range of visual material, from studies for paintings to decorative border designs and Philip Speakman Webb’s stained-glass designs of birds and fishes. The exhibition attempts to unite the diversity of these drawings by reference to their literary content, to chivalric Arthurian legends and Biblical stories concerning morality. Although these were fundamental ideas for the art of the time, the show’s true strength lies in its remarkable corpus of drawings of models. The hunt for beautiful models formed an essential part of the Brotherhood’s approach to art, especially for the obsessive Rossetti. A small group in the museum’s Upper Perrin Gallery unites some of the principal models of the period, some of whom were shared between artists: Elizabeth Siddall, Fanny Cornforth, Christina Rossetti, Effie Ruskin, and Emma Madox Brown. Even Marie Spartali Stillman is represented by her watercolour of a Young Girl Harvesting Apples (Autumn) (c. late 1860s, early 1870s) whilst Georgiana Burne-Jones makes an appearance in the Silk Room between the work of Valentine Cameron Prinsep and Albert Moore. Unfortunately, there’s no Jane Morris here.

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Edward Burne-Jones, Study for a Slave in The Wheel of Fortune (1877-83). Image via www.wsimag.com

A large selection of the drawings show models draped in idyllic clothing, personifying allegorical figures, such as George Frederic Watts’ radiant red and white chalk study for the figure of Death (c. 1878-86), or Leighton’s studies for Iphigenia lying on a bed. Others posed nude, as can be seen in the drawings by Edward John Poynter and Henry Holiday. Rossetti’s male models often played lovers and his depictions inspired Simeon Solomon’s characteristically effeminate male representations. On the other hand, Edward Burne-Jones influence from Renaissance art gave his men a Michelangelesque appearance – his study of a slave in The Wheel of Fortune (1877-83) is particularly sensitive in his subtle transitions of tone across the musculature of the figure, evidently inspired by Michelangelo’s marble Slaves (1513-16) now in the Louvre.

Some of the most beautiful and sympathetic renderings of the subjects in the collection were drawn in chalk or charcoal, media which allowed for soft transitions of tone. John William Waterhouse’s head study for Lamia (c. 1905) is delicate and sensitive, whereas Moore’s drawing of a female head in profile is filled with a rawness that is both material and lively. On the other hand, atmospheric effects were best achieved using watercolours, gouache, and also crayons, as can be seen in Charles Fairfax Murray’s Saint Cecilia and Her Companions (c. 1875) and Arthur Hughes’ Adoration of the Kings and Shepherds (c. 1902). A rare sight in the exhibition is a head study for the nun in Charles Allston Collins’ Covent Thoughts (c. 1851), another major early work shortly after the Brotherhood’s foundation.

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Frederick Sandys, King Pelles’ Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sanc Graal, 1861. Image via www.artfund.org

And yet, despite this selection of exquisite – some culturally-significant – works on paper, one cannot help but remain astounded by Frederick Sandys’ intricate pen and ink study for King Pelles’ Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sanc Graal (1861). Reminiscent of Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata (1859), Sandys’ drawing is spectacular in his attention to detail and superb precision. The careful mark-making lifts the subject out of the shadows, her curling locks of hair shimmering in the light. The graphic style is evocative of Rossetti’s own pen and ink drawings which also feature closely-hatched backgrounds to highlight the protagonists. It is an intensely powerful work in its sense of immediacy and its profound draughtsmanship.

The exhibition is brilliant, not in its curation and selection of themes, but by its display of Victorian England’s infinite variety. The drawings are fine examples of the importance of models and drawing from life. They show that Victorian art was more than just a stylistic revolution; it was a world of social interactions between models and artists, family and friends. Under the disguise of allegories and religious messages was the artist’s embracement of everything that was human. Intellect became inspiration, people became protagonists. For the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers, art was, and will always be, the appreciation and enjoyment of life itself.

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection ran until 29th May 2016 at Leighton House Museum, London, www.leightonhouse.co.uk.

Greek art manifested! – Defining Beauty at the British Museum

Greco-Roman sculpture has always been a source of intrigue for generations of artists, collectors, connoisseurs, and even tourists. The Venus de Milo in the Museé du Louvre is one of the most popular exhibits and has been a symbol of ideal female beauty and sophisticated taste for many art critics over the years. When the Laocoön was rediscovered in 1506, a sculpture praised highly by Pliny the Elder, Michelangelo was called to see it immediately. When it became visible, it was rumoured that everyone began to draw. For many years, an artist’s training required him to observe and copy works from Antiquity before they were allowed to work from life. Antique form was held in the highest regard and the British Museum’s latest exhibition Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek art explores the development of these highly recognisable images.

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Left to right: Polykleitos’ Doryphoros; Myron’s Diskobolos; Illissos, after Pheidias. Image via www.britishmuseum.org.

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Beautifully Obscene: The History of the Erotic Print – Call for Funding

Beautifully Obscene posterStudio 3 Gallery presents Beautifully Obscene: The History of the Erotic Print, 15th May – 12th June 2015.

The exhibition aims to cover a range of artists, technical and thematic approaches spanning over the course of 500 years. The principal aim is to study the aesthetics of the human form and sexuality in order to challenge the ingrained preconceptions against erotic art and to emphasise that the beautiful can, in fact, be found in the obscene.

Studio 3 Gallery is located on the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Beautifully Obscene is being curated by a group of students as part of a module for the History and Philosophy of Art BA degree programme. Previous student exhibitions included Two-Faced Fame and UNDEREXPOSED. We have been assigned a budget and given free reign over the gallery space. The project is making good progress, however, with more funds we will be able to add even more to this exciting and unique exhibition.

We are aiming to raise £500 to add to the exhibition budget. As we are a student-run project, funds are limited so any extra money raised will be put towards exhibition costs and to enhance the exhibition as a whole.

Money raised will go towards running cost of the exhibition such as framing, our catalogues, posters, invites and more.

Most excitingly, money raised will allow us to purchase prints for our exhibition, which will be added to the universities print collection. The Kent Print Collection allows students to learn about prints through directly studying them. We aim to purchase a series of Shunga prints. These will be the first Japanese prints in the collection.

To donate, please refer to our GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/beautifullyobscene

To see exciting update of the exhibition, please ‘like’ our Facebook page –

https://www.facebook.com/beautifullyobsceneexhibition

Thank you and we hope to see you at the exhibition!

MADDER – it’s all in the preparation

Two years ago the Griffin Gallery in West London launched its first Griffin Art Prize competition for UK-based artists who graduated within the past five years. The winner of the prize is awarded a six-month residency at the Griffin Gallery and Studios, resulting in a solo exhibition at the gallery with a published catalogue. They will also have access to a supply of the world’s finest artist materials from a leading supplier of their choice: Winsor & Newton, Liquitex, and Conté à Paris. MADDER is the fruitful product of Griffin Art Prize 2013 winners Luke George and Elizabeth Rose, an artist-couple who won the prize with their abstract piece Gate (2013).

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Luke George and Elizabeth Rose in front of their winning piece Gate (2013). Image via mediacentre.kallaway.co.uk.

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Deloitte Ignite 14 – Myth comes to the Royal Opera House

Over the weekend the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden launched its annual contemporary arts festival Deloitte Ignite, now in its seventh year, with a series of free public events. The month-long festival (5th-28th September 2014) brings together dance and the visual arts, leading to a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and the National Gallery’s Minna Moore Ede. For Deloitte Ignite 14, Ede uses her specialism in Renaissance art to explore the topic of Myth, its origins and various aspects of creation. Two years ago she was one of the minds behind the Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 collaboration which resulted in an exhibition of Titian paintings, contemporary responses to those works, and a contemporary production at the Royal Opera House.

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Anna Pavlova in The Dying Swan. Image via www.vam.ac.uk.

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Louvre Abu Dhabi – a new collection awaits

The art world is about to get a little bit more exciting as the Louvre opens the doors to a new museum in Abu Dhabi in December 2015. The Louvre Abu Dhabi seeks to be a universal museum, embracing cross-cultural similarities instead of differences with its newly-bought collection. The Musée du Louvre’s Louvre Abu Dhabi: Birth of a Museum exhibition is the first large-scale overseas public unveiling of 150 objects from the permanent collection, acquired since 2009, with an aim to establish the museum’s motives and philosophy within the art world.

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Jean Nouvel’s domed Louvre Abu Dhabi. Image via toyboxbychristina.wordpress.com.

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From colourful cut-outs to stained glass windows – Henri Matisse at Tate

An artist sits in a wheelchair, a large pair of scissors in one hand, the other holding on to a large sheet of orange paper. Aided by his studio assistant, the Russian-born Lydia Delectorskaya, the great Henri Matisse swiftly and rapidly cuts the piece of paper into a wavy, algae-like form. Similar shapes are then pinned to a large wall. Sitting in his wheelchair, the artist contemplates the collage of shapes that adorns one of several walls.

This is one of those rare times when footage of artists at work exist for the public to see – and it’s perhaps one of the most beautiful, too. Filmed by Adrien Maeght, son of the French art dealer Aimé Maeght, it is a revelation into the artist’s thought processes, despite being confined to his wheelchair due to his declining health in the early 1940s, including being diagnosed with cancer. This film serves as the opening to Tate Modern’s latest blockbuster exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs which explores the artist’s adoption of this unconventional medium during his final years.

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Henri Matisse, Large Decoration with Masks, 1953. Image via www.thesundaytimes.co.uk.

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A stimulator of the human soul – 512 Hours of Marina Abramović

It has been roughly 3 hours since I left Marina Abramović’s 512 Hours show at the Serpentine Gallery in London and I am still out of breath. The experience was incredibly surreal and everyone will have varying responses, evidenced by the exhibition’s Participant Chronicles on Tumblr.

I went with a friend from university, Maria, and we were delighted to find a short queue early in the afternoon. Feeling rather parched we conversed inside the Serpentine Pavilion with a latte and a bottle of water from the café that resides within. The 2014 Serpentine Pavilion was designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić and resembles a cocoon-like structure resting on several large pieces of stone. My friend compared it to a doughnut.

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The 2014 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Smiljan Radić.

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Interior of the 2014 Serpentine Pavilion.

After queuing for under ten minutes and conversing with a woman behind us and delivering our expertise about the artist, we were soon led through a set of white doors with notes saying “QUIET PLEASE” and into the locker room. Once stripped of our belongings we were given a set of noise-cancelling headphones to wear inside.

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“If you want to go to the toilets, now is the time to go.”

Here’s what we thought of the performance:

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The Shires build Nashville in London!

I recently attended a concert at the Water Rats in London headlined by UK country-duo The Shires. This was the penultimate leg of their UK tour. Supporting them on tour was Jersey-based Frankie Davies. To my surprise, Gary Quinn from Ireland was also performing at that particular concert.

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It was fun-filled night of promoting British country music and sharing one’s stories through deep and powerful songs. Having previously met Frankie before, I also had a chance to meet The Shires – consisting of Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle – and Gary Quinn as well. I met her photographer cousin, Mel, who owns Mel Brown Studios, and I also met Jennifer, tour manager for The Shires.

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I had a chance to experiment with my own photography – see HERE – and I managed to do it while juggling a glass of white wine in the other hand – there’s an eyewitness.

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Anyway, I managed to have my review published on ukCOUNTRYmusic.NET, the UK’s main (fan) website dedicated to promoting American and British country music, a hub for country fans everywhere to gather together and join in with the new wave that is changing the British music scene as we speak.

Click HERE to read my review of the concert.