Monday, November 4, 2019

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters

detail, Night and Sleep by Evelyn De Morgan. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery
Fanny Eaton by Joanna Wells. Photograph: Richard Caspole/National Portrait Gallery
170 years after the first pictures were exhibited by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1849, "Pre-Raphaelite Sisters" at London's National Portrait Gallery, explores the overlooked contribution of twelve women to this iconic artistic movement. Featuring new discoveries and unseen works from public and private collections across the world, this show reveals the women behind the pictures and their creative roles in Pre-Raphaelite’s successive phases between 1850 and 1900.

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, through January 26, reveals the lives and works of British women who have long been overlooked or relegated as only muses of their male counterparts in the pioneering 19th century art movement.
Ophelia by John Everett Millais, circa 1851
Tate, London
One such model was Elizabeth Siddal, who married Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and posed for hours a day over months in a tepid bathtub for John Everett Millais’s celebrated painting Ophelia. Siddal infamously caught a severe chill while thus posing as Shakespeare’s tragic heroine in Hamlet; she was literally suffering for the artist's image of a woman suffering. In 1862, she overdosed on the narcotic laudanum after the stillbirth of her daughter with Rossetti. Her husband poured himself into then publishing his own written masterpiece, Poems. Siddal subsequently became known as the "tragic muse of brilliant men," writes Helen Lewis in The Atlantic.

The current exhibition brings to light Siddal's own skilled artistry in works like the figural sketch Lovers Listening to Music. Also of note, writes Kathryn Hughes in the GuardianIn Evelyn De Morgan’s "earlier pieces, such as the luscious Night and Sleep (1878) made when she was just 23, you sense the painterly confidence and feeling for colour that might make any established grandmaster look to his laurels." Their artwork is shown along with fine art and crafts by Joanna Wells, Fanny Cornforth, Marie Spartali Stillman, Christina Rossetti, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Effie Millais, Maria Zambaco, Jane Morris, Annie Miller, and Fanny Eaton.

An exhibition catalogue outlines the critical engagement of these women, as models, artists, makers, partners and poets, in the renown of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.