Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Pre-Raphaelites - Manchester Gallery & Lady Lever Gallery

Yesterday I went on a Pre-Raphaelite tour of the north - Manchester Art Gallery and Lady Lever gallery at Port Sunlight. It was a fantastic (though long!) day and I ended up getting much more out of the day than I had expected! Here's my potted review of the galleries...

The first stop was Manchester, for the Manchester Art Gallery and in particular their exhibition "Ford Madox Brown - Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer". I had no idea how central the gallery was when we drove through to the heart of the city, and it is a very impressive sight even though it is stuck in amongst more modern buildings.

Their permanent collection of Pre-Raphaelites is an impressive one, displaying some of the finest examples of the movement ranging from The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt to Arthur Hughes' Ophelia. These paintings are definitely worth visiting and seeing face to face, as the vibrancy of colour used particularly by Hunt must be seen to be believed.

The Light of the World  by William Holman Hunt. You can see here why you need to see it in the flesh -this does it no justice! 

Arthur Hughes' Ophelia. This also has a lovely frame that is worth seeing (!)

I was only just getting over the brilliance of the collection in the room I was in, only to go through and see an even more impressive selection. I had not anticipated walking into a room and being met by Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs, as well as Rossetti's The Bower Meadow - it was a fantastic surprise! These two images are two of my all-time favourite paintings, and it was amazing to see them in the flesh, particularly to appreciate the level of detail that goes into the works. (If you like me are a fan of Waterhouse's Nymphs and Rossetti in general, similar paintings including Dante's Dream by Rossetti and Narcissus by Waterhouse are at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool).

The Bower Meadow by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

We then went to look at the main event exhibition, devoted to the artist Ford Madox Brown. It was a fascinating exhibit (appropriately sponsored by Farrow & Ball, which for some reason entertained me greatly when glancing around at the muted exhibition wall colours) and had an impressive collection of his pieces including the astoundingly detailed piece Work, painted between 1852-63. The painting is supported by a collection of preliminary sketches and roughs which really help the viewer to understand the painstaking work that goes into such an elaborate painting. Also in this exhibition were sketches from other famous paintings, designs for stained glass windows produced alongside William Morriss and a number of other famous works including Pretty Baa Lambs and The Last of England.

I myself wasn't as impressed with the Ford Madox Brown exhibition as others, not because it was an unsatisfactory exhibit at all, but because I had seen one or two of the works before. As a Birmingham girl, I have visited the BM&AG (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) many times, which is where many of the pieces for the exhibit had been borrowed from, so it felt a little familiar at times. However, this doesn't take away the impact that pieces like Work and The Last of England have on the viewer, and it made me even more enthusiastic about enjoying the pieces that were not from the BM&AG including the window designs, family sketches (his sketches of his sons as babies are amazing, don't walk past them they're right in the corner!) and Brown's entry to a commission competition to paint a patriotic mural in London.

The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown

Work by Ford Madox Brown

The Manchester Gallery also houses a fine collection of paintings by one of Manchester's pioneer artists, L.S. Lowry, as well as collections of paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, including works by renowned artists Gainsborough, Reynolds and Stubbs.

Our next stop was a little drive to Port Sunlight, the purpose built village that housed the factories and workers of the Sunlight Soap company. Inside this spectacular village is housed the Lady Lever Gallery, a memorial gallery to the wife of William Hesketh Lever, founder of the Sunlight Soap company. This gallery houses another collection of PreRaphaelite painting, which is arguably even more impressive than those in Manchester. There was one painting in particular I knew that was here, which I had determined to see ever since first seeing a copy of it in print - The Scapegoat, by Holman Hunt.

I was not disappointed. On entry to the first room, it is just to the right and has all the dazzling impact I had expected. Ok, so it's a painting of a goat, but still! It's what is behind the goat that I am interested in - the amazing colours of the far eastern landscape that were so truthfully captured by Hunt, and the incredible attention to detail.

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt. This definitely needs to be viewed in the flesh, just look at his little face...  but seriously, this does it no justice!

After this initial viewing I thought it wouldn't get much better, and for a while it didn't - Bubbles is on the wall in the area to the right of The Scapegoat, an image that is impressive but that I am not overly fond of. However, in the room on the opposite side of the building there are so many of my favourite paintings it was hard to decide which one to stare at for the longest! Rosetti's The Blessed Damozel needs to be visited in person just so that you can behold the incredible frame it is housed in; The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne Jones is so beautiful that no print image can truly do it justice; equally The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne Jones is quite breathtaking; and the attention to detail in May Morning on Magdalen Tower by Holman Hunt, a painting I had not even seen in print before, was incredibly rich and full of bright light.

The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a work that was completed in sync with this poem also by DG Rossetti.

The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne Jones


The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne Jones. It is worth going to gallery to read the beautiful story behind this painting alone, let alone to see it in real life.

May Morning on Magdalen Tower by William Holman Hunt

By this point I was all Pre-Raphaelited out - it truly was a brilliant collection. Also housed in the gallery are (what I would call less interesting but equally awe-inspiring) other collections, including a small collection of pieces by Reynolds, an entire collection of pottery by Josiah Wedgwood including an imposing Wedgwood fireplace, and a large collection of (apparently historically important) Greek urns.

All in all, I did not go home disappointed, and I highly recommend a visit to these galleries if like me you are a Pre-Raphaelite fan. I also feel it is worth mentioning that both of the art galleries are free entry, so even if you are a bit poor like I am at the moment you can be inspired by art.

Manchester Art Gallery is open Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 5pm. Free entry.
"Ford Madox Brown - Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer" is now closed.
The Lady Lever Gallery is open daily, 10am - 5pm. Free entry. 

(Copyright of images to their respective galleries and owners, of course, as they are clearly not mine!)

1 comment:

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