Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

Tate Britain: Exhibition

12 September 2012 – 13 January 2013

The worlds of theatre and art have always been closely related. The most common overlap comes as designers work to make stages illuminate plays and, at the same time, look beautiful.

The relationship moves in the other direction as well. Around the globe, artists have always taken actors (and more particularly beautiful actresses), writers and other stage grandees as subjects for portraits.

In addition, theatres and performances have also proved popular with artists and the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were no exception.

Many of their most beautiful and memorable works were drawn from the stage and the current exhibition at Tate Britain contains a large number of pieces that have been painted after theatrical works, as it happens nearly all by Shakespeare.

The two most famous Shakespeare pieces of this era are John Singer Sargent's portrait of Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth, which is not in this exhibition as he seemingly didn't quite make it into the Brotherhood and John Everett Millais's gorgeous vision of Ophelia meeting her death.

It is not entirely clear why, but it seems that one of the most popular plays for this school of artists was Measure for Measure, Millais once again to the fore with his painting of Mariana placed next to William Holman Hunt's rather better-known Claudio and Isabella.

There is far more to Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde than a series of Shakespearean images, with seven rooms packed with fine examples of why this movement is still so popular over a century and a half after its inception.

As one might expect, many of the best and most familiar works come from the Tate's own collection but the real pleasure to be drawn from this exhibition lies with imports primarily from other UK art galleries but also elsewhere particularly galleries in the States, as well as private collections.

Altogether, with more than 150 exhibits this is a special exhibition that should appeal to any art lovers but also theatre buffs.

For anyone that finds busy exhibitions claustrophobic, the advance booking is helpful but an even better tip is to arrive, tickets in hand, on the dot of 10AM when the doors open, allowing a least a few minutes of relatively solitary viewing.