Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through January 30, 2011

This show focuses on paintings and photography of the 1850s and 1860s in Britain. Photography was new then, and artists quickly became aware of its potential as a new medium for their expression. Painters at the same time sought to replicate the exactitude possible with photography, so not only did it create a new field of art, it also influenced existing fields.

Outdoor subjects pre-dominate in this show. I very much liked John Dillwyn Llewelyn's Plant Study, which features a path through a garden - I just love paintings of paths. John Ruskin's work is also featured, including a painting and daguerreotype of Fribourg. This is the first time the two works have been exhibited together; I'm always glad when I see something that hasn't been seen before!

Some of the photographs reminded me of the works I saw in The Pond, which I discussed earlier on this blog. They are of the outdoors, and depict it in a detailed and realistic manner, warts and all. I find I'm often reminded of something I've seen earlier when I visit a new exhibit, and often it's something a bit incongruous - like 19th century photographs reminding me of pictures taken in the 1960s.

The paintings in this show are very detailed; you often feel as if you are standing and looking at the actual view, rather than merely a painting of it - photography's influence, undoubtedly. John Wilham Inchbold's work was particularly realistic; I liked his paintings of paths through the woods.

Alice Liddell, the model for Alice in Wonderland appears in two pieces - as part of tableaux that the artists set up - perhaps this was how they occupied themselves when the weather was too inclement to allow for outdoor compositions?

Verdict: This is well worth seeing. Allow plenty of time, as the exhibit is quite large, encompassing several rooms. If you're taking a long lunch, or are going at the weekend, you could do this and Picturing the Victorians in the East Building library, which is from the same time period.

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