24 May 2013

Top Five Friday: Pre-Raphaelite Exhibit at the NGA (or, now I can die happy)

It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. 
~ Kojiro Tomita


I
can die happy now.

Last Friday afternoon I spent over an hour with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  The National Gallery of Art was hosting an exhibition of some of the major pieces from the PRB, including a couple of busts and statues from the only sculptor in the group.

Faithful readers know my PRB obsession well.  But I have to say, there is nothing like seeing the original works up close and personal.  The colours are brighter, the brush strokes visible, the talent of the artists more apparent.  I own several prints, but was amazed at seeing how large some of my favorite paintings are in person. 

Mariana – John Everett Millias
For the PRB, poetry was just as important as paint colour, and Tennyson was a perennial favorite.  In Mariana (1851), Millias portrayed Tennyson’s heroine waiting in vain for her lover:
but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower.
Then said she, 'I am very dreary,
He will not come,' she said;
She wept, 'I am aweary, aweary,
O God, that I were dead!'
 
Isabella and the Pot of Basil – William Holman Hunt
Another painting inspired by poetry, this time, Keats’ Isabella, or The Pot of Basil.  This painting was in the next to last room of the exhibit and is larger then life.  Too bad they didn’t put a bench in there ~ I could have sat before this masterpiece for another hour. 
FAIR Isabel, poor simple Isabel! 
  Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love’s eye! 
They could not in the self-same mansion dwell 
  Without some stir of heart, some malady; 
They could not sit at meals but feel how well        
  It soothed each to be the other by; 
They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleep 
But to each other dream, and nightly weep.

The Salutation of Beatrice – Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Not only are the colours striking ~ a given with almost all PRB works ~ but the size of the piece also adds to its mesmerizing quality.  Rossetti painted it on two cupboard doors and gave it to William and Jane Morris as a wedding gift.  He later took it back (before or after he and Jane became lovers?) and sold them.  I took one look and wished I were the new owner.

These panels are based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy and show Dante with Beatrice as she was on earth, and as he imagined her in Paradiso.  Fitting, given the painter's name derives from the poet. 
From that most holy wave I now returned
to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are
renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was
pure and prepared to climb unto the stars.

 
 
A close up of the ray of light.  It almost felt like I could touch it and feel the warmth of the sun.
The Awakening Conscience – William Holman Hunt
“Whited sepulchers” is an apt description of Victorian society: very careful outward shows of piety and manners, but inside, as immoral as the cads and loose women they publically disdained.   Mistresses were quite common, but not never spoken of ~ that would be rude!  So Hunt’s portrayal of a mistress finally coming to grips with the shame of her hidden life caused a public outcry.

This painting is the only one of the five that wasn’t inspired by poetry.

 But what struck me was the way the artist was able to paint a ray of light illuminating a corner of the room.  It so fascinated me that I had to put my face right up to the painting to better see the brush strokes.  From a distance, it looked like real sunlight pouring over the canvas.



The Rock of Doom – Edward Burne-Jones
Greek and Roman mythology also fired the romantic PRB imagination.  This is one of three canvases Burne-Jones painted of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from Medusa.  Again, I was amazed at how large the canvases were.  I literally couldn’t breathe in that room, they were so beautiful.

The poem that inspired these paintings was William Morris’ “The Doom of King Acrisius” from The Earthly Paradise: 
He lighted down, and toward the place he drew,
And made invisible by Pallas' aid,
He came within the scarped cliff's purple shade,
And found a woman standing lonely there,
Naked, except for tresses of her hair
That o'er her white limbs by the breeze were wound,
And brazen chains her weary arms that bound
Unto the sea-beat overhanging rock,
As though her golden-crowned head to mock.
But nigh her feet upon the sand there lay
Rich raiment that had covered her that day,
Worthy to be the ransom of a king,
Unworthy round such loveliness to cling. . . .
 
 Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
What art exhibits have you visited recently?
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