Edward Burne-Jones: Pre-Raphaelite Visionary – Tate Britain

Burne-Jones poster

The exhibition Edward Burne-Jones: Pre-Raphaelite Visionary at Tate Britain looks at the career of Burne-Jones (1833-1898), taking a partly chronological and partly thematic approach to his life and work. There are sections on Burne-Jones as an apprentice and as a draughtsman, revealing another, humorous side to the artist. One room looks at the pictures Burne-Jones chose for exhibition, including some of his most famous works, such as King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid. Another explores the portraits he painted of family and friends, while one striking room displays his Briar Rose series of panels. Burne-Jones isn’t my favourite Pre-Raphaelite, but I enjoyed the exhibition.

Burne-Jones artwork

Tate Britain

Tate Britain

Following my visit to Tate Modern a few weeks ago, I decided to head to Tate Britain in Pimlico. This gallery, which specialises in British art, does hold more attractions for me than Tate Modern does, and has some of my all-time favourite pictures.

Inside Tate Britain

Inside Tate Britain

The bulk of the permanent collection forms the ‘Walk Through British Art’ which allows the visitor to explore 500 years of art chronologically. I do like this ordered way of doing things. Naturally enough, I started at the beginning.

Tate Britain

The early pictures in the collection suffer in my mind from a comparison with the National Portrait Gallery. They’re similar in style but unlike the NPG, they aren’t of anyone famous. One exception is the picture of Elizabeth I, and I was amused by an angular painting of a pair of identical twins holding their babies, apparently born on the same day.

Elizabeth I
Steven van der Meulen, Steven van Herwijck. Portrait of Elizabeth I, c.1563

Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers
Henry Fuseli. Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers, ? exhibited 1812

The rooms take you through the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, featuring such artists as Lely, Gainsborough, Hogarth and Constable. Along the way I popped into a room to view John Martin’s incredible apocalyptic canvases.

The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum
John Martin. The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum, 1822

I came to my favourite room in the gallery, which focuses on nineteenth century and Pre Raphaelite art. I’ve been reading a book about poetical deaths recently, so I was fascinated to see the picture of Chatterton. Millais’ picture of Ophelia, one of my favourites, is also displayed here as well as Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, which always reminds me of The Family From One End Street.

1890 room
My favourite room

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
John Singer Sargent. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889

As well as familiar favourites, I came across a few unfamiliar pictures which I really loved.

Beyond Man’s Footsteps
Briton Riviere. Beyond Man’s Footsteps, exhibited 1894

The Doctor
Sir Luke Fildes. The Doctor, exhibited 1891

The next few rooms cover later art, which isn’t generally as interesting to me, although I find Francis Bacon’s picture of a man screaming rather chilling. Also, I quite like a Lowry.

Study for a Portrait
Francis Bacon. Study for a Portrait, 1952

The Pond
L.S. Lowry. The Pond, 1950

Before leaving I ventured to the back of the gallery to see the Turner Collection and the works of William Blake, both of which have their own spaces.

Turner Collection
Turner Collection

The Ghost of a Flea
William Blake. The Ghost of a Flea, c.1819–20

After my visit, my conclusion is that I should go to Tate Britain more often. There are some incredible paintings here, including some of my favourites, and while I can readily view them online, nothing compares to the real thing.


Address: Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG

Website: tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Sun

Prices: Free (there is a charge for special exhibitions)

Artist and Empire – Tate Britain


On Saturday I had a bit of time to spare so I popped into Tate Britain to check out their latest exhibition, Artist and Empire. The exhibition encompasses art from the past five hundred years or so, concerned with the British Empire. It includes works by diverse artists, both oppressors and oppressed, conquerors and the conquered, from different perspectives.

The exhibition acknowledges that the issue of ’empire’ is a difficult one to explore and come to terms with these days. However, remnants of the British Empire are all around us, and the exhibition attempts to face these head on in order to explore the issues they raise. I really like the way exhibitions at Tate Britain tend to mix old and new works and all different kinds of art, and this one is no exception.

The exhibition is divided into themes, with one room containing maps, one about heroics, one focused on costume and portraiture, and so on. Maps in particular were often used to denote conquest, while naming places implied ownership over that place. Portraits were often used as symbols of power, and the clothes worn by the sitter were often suggestive: Western dress worn by Indian royalty and Native American dress worn by the British, for example, implied a receptivity to other cultures. Having said that, the power balance was hardly equal: many works painted (pun intended) the British as morally correct, honourable conquerors. One section of the exhibition looked at trophies: collections of plants, animals and birds, drawings and paintings of them, and artefacts created by humans.

The latter part of the exhibition looks at the work of modern artists examining the legacy of empire in often-provocative ways. The exhibition is a thought-provoking one: for me, it wasn’t so much about viewing and enjoying art for its own sake, but using it as a lens through which to view beliefs and attitudes concerning empire.

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840–1860 – Tate Britain

The final exhibition I saw at Tate Britain was Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860. It was a fascinating exhibition with some of the earliest photographs ever taken on display. William Henry Fox Talbot pioneered a method of taking pictures with salted paper prints in 1839, the same year as Louis Daguerre invented the daguerrotype. Talbot’s images included pictures of china, glass, paper and people – including his daughter – as he explored the potential of the new medium. Other photographs on display include fascinating Paris landmarks including the Arc de Triomphe, images of India and the American Civil War, and the construction of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

Later, Gustave Le Gray improved the salted paper print method by using waxed paper negative proofs. Further images displayed showcase the extra detail this method offered: the pyramids of Egypt, the Crimean war and ordinary life, in the shape of some Newhaven fishwives, are pictured. Early photography was inspired by portraiture when it came to pictures of people: pictures were often posed, but they were unique in being able to capture individuals, particularly children, at a specific moment in time. Most of the pictures are of ordinary people, but there is one notable image of French author Victor Hugo.

A fascinating exhibition, this is a must-see for anyone interested in photography or history.

Sculpture Victorious – Tate Britain

During my day out at Tate Britain, I visited a great many exhibitions including Sculpture Victorious. This exhibition looks at the development of the art form during the Victorian era. Victoria and Albert encouraged and commissioned work, as did the state, and this helped to encourage a “golden age” of sculpture.

The first section explores images of Queen Victoria herself, from Francis Chantrey’s 1839 young and sensual marble bust to Alfred Gilbert’s 1887-9 marble bust and Edward Onslow Ford’s 1897 bronze bust, made only a few years before Victoria died. Her image was familiar to all her subjects as it was dispersed throughout the country on cameos, medals and coins – some of which are displayed here, including Canadian and Indian coins, a Crimea medal and a Great Exhibition medal – as well as large and small busts. The item I found particularly interesting was Benjamin Cheverton’s 1842 bust, a copy of Chantrey’s made using Cheverton’s ingenious “reducing machine”.

The nineteenth century saw a growth of interest in Britain’s history, particularly its medieval past. This was evident in the Houses of Parliament, designed in a Gothic style, and the fascination with the “Age of Chivalry” and church history. The House of Lords was decorated with models of the Magna Carta barons by James Sherwood Westmacott, including the Earl of Winchester (d. 1219), whose model has been loaned to this exhibition. Edmund Cotterill’s Eglinton Trophy is a beautiful and intricate example of medieval-inspired design, while many medieval tombs were conserved and their casts displayed at the Crystal Palace, including that of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The classical world also inspired the Victorians, particularly the Parthenon marbles, casts and miniatures of which were sold and toured the country. Hamo Thornycroft’s bronze sculpture of Teucer (1881), a Greek archer named in the Iliad, was well received while John Gibson, a leading British neoclassicist, created Hylas surprised by the Naiades (1826-c.36) in marble. The Devonshire Parure (1856), a glorious collection of jewels, was inspired by classical style while Frederic Leighton’s bronze An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877) is particularly impressive.

The Great Exhibition showcased fine examples of sculpture from Britain and abroad. Minto & Co.’s Peacock (1873) and Elephant (1889) are attractive and bright; made of lead and tin-glazed earthenware, they exemplify the link between sculpture and manufacturing. Mid-19th century ivory sculptures from Barhampur in India are ornate and beautiful, while Thomas Wilkinson Wallis’s Partridges and Ivy (1871), made of limewood, is breathtakingly delicate and stunning. Sculptures of a Greek slave and an American slave helped to fuel the anti-slavery campaign. I was particularly impressed by Raffaele Monti’s Veiled Vestal (1847), a marble sculpture with remarkably realistic drapes veiling a young woman’s face.

The Victorian era saw the construction of more public statues than any other, designed largely for commemorative purposes. Still famous to this day is Alfred Gilbert’s 1893 Shaftesbury monument, a memorial to Lord Shaftesbury, most commonly known as the Statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. A statue of King Alfred by Hamo Thornycroft was erected in Winchester in 1901, accompanied by a carefully choreographed unveiling, and Alfred Stevens won the Wellington Commission to create a memorial to the Duke of Wellington in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The final section of the exhibition looks at individual craftsmanship, with examples including A Royal Game (1906-11) by William Reynolds-Stephens, an impressive piece of bronze, wood and stone showing Elizabeth I and Philip II of Spain playing chess. Another piece that caught my eye was Perseus and the Graiae (1877-88) by Edward Burne-Jones.

I have an interest in the Victorian period and this exhibition allowed me to learn about an area of Victorian art that I hadn’t really thought about before. Definitely recommended.

Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process – Tate Britain

At Tate Britain in order to attend some exhibitions, I came across a photography exhibition called Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process. The exhibition consists of a selection of photos taken by Waplington at McQueen’s invitation, concerning the latter’s final ready-to-wear collection for A/W 2009 known as The Horn of Plenty! Everything But the Kitchen Sink. As I have a ticket for the McQueen exhibition at the V&A later this year, I thought it would be a good idea to visit this one too.

The exhibition documents the process of creating the collection from start to finish, beginning with pictures of rubbish tips and ending with images of the catwalk. In between you see McQueen and his assistants designing, creating and constructing the costumes. The collection acted as a satirical and provocative retrospective of his career, with costumes made from fine silks designed to look like rubbish bags and an exaggerated emphasis on the models’ features. I found the exhibition interesting and it whetted my appetite for the larger exhibition at the V&A later on.

The Darks – Tate Britain

The Darks is an installation/exhibition by Ruth Ewan and Astrid Johnson based at Tate Britain. I had read about it on the website, and when I went to the Tate to see some exhibitions on Easter Monday, I decided to give this tour a go.

The Darks plays on the format of a museum audio guide, and was inspired – if that is the right word – by the Millbank Prison which used to occupy the Tate site. Jeremy Bentham’s original 1816 plan was for a Panopticon, a system which would enable just one watchman to keep an eye on all the prisoners, but the end result was somewhat different. The triangle of Mercy, Justice and Vigilance was supposed to inform prison design. The guide features both real and fictional accounts from the likes of Dickens as well as prisoners transported to Australia from just outside the prison. The tour starts at the Tate’s Millbank entrance, then moves onto the steps; you cross the road and walk by the river until you reach the Morpeth Arms and Ponsonby Place, then head back to the Manton Entrance in Atterbury Street, finishing up in the Tate’s Lower Rotunda.

The Darks audio guide collection point

Tate Britain Millbank entrance

Looking out onto the river

The Rotunda

Looking west along the riverbank

The Thames

The Thames

Prisoners departed London here for transportation to Australia

The Morpeth Arms, where prison workers used to drink

Part of the octagon that used to mark the prison boundary

Another view of the boundary

Manton Entrance

Back inside Tate Britain

The Darks is a fascinating tour and I learned a lot about Millbank Prison and the site itself. I love anything that allows me to explore more of London, so this was ideal.

Late Turner: Painting Set Free – Tate Britain

I was supposed to be meeting a friend on Sunday, but she couldn’t make it, so I decided to go to a couple of exhibitions instead. The first was Late Turner: Painting Set Free at Tate Britain.

The exhibition covers J.M.W. Turner’s work between 1835 and his death in 1851. I adore Turner and thoroughly enjoyed looking at his later works, which give the lie to the concept that old age automatically has to mean settling down into a reactionary retirement. Turner continued to experiment and push the boundaries well into his last years, despite derision and misunderstanding from his contemporaries.

One of my favourite paintings is Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway (1844), which is just incredible, with the train rushing towards you, the sense of movement clear within the picture. I loved seeing it here. I also loved the Roman and classical-inspired pictures with their beautiful landscapes, as well as the watercolours of the burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. Another favourite was Peace: Burial at Sea (1842) – I thought the light on the water was beautiful.

This exhibition is brilliant, and strongly recommended – but it can get crowded, so I would suggest trying to go at a quiet time if possible.

British Folk Art – Tate Britain

After visiting the Kenneth Clark exhibition, I went along to the British Folk Art museum, also at Tate Britain. This exhibition comprises collections from across Britain which have been described as folk art, a term generally used in connection to social history or folklore studies. It is the first major exhibition of its kind in the country, and covers work from the seventeenth century to the middle of the 20th, which is when folk art supposedly began to become more commodified.

The first section of the exhibition consisted of a selection of painted, carved or constructed signs outside buildings which were used to denote the kind of business and as an early form of advertising. Some of these signs are obvious, such as a boot or a shoe to denote a cobbler, and a padlock or key for a locksmith. Others are less so: a bear was often used outside a barber’s (as bear grease was commonly used on the hair), and the three golden balls outside a pawn shop represent the family crest of the Medicis, wealthy Italian bankers. The detail and craftsmanship evident on some of these signs is incredible.

In early 19th century Frant, a village near Tunbridge Wells, a tailor named George Smart created and sold pictures made from textile  scraps, which he then sold to tourists. “Smart’s Repository” produced some amazing pictures of fascinating village figures, including the policeman and an old woman in a red coat. Many folk artists painted pictures relating to rural life and landscapes, including images of the sea and sky. One notable such artist was Alfred Wallis (1855-1942), a rag and bone merchant and self-taught painter from St Ives, who created paintings based on his early career at sea.

Some folk arts were classed as crafts, including the mysterious “god in a bottle” sculptures (wood and liquid in glass bottles), straw crafts and leatherwork. Some were carved figures, such as the Highlander which was kept outside a tobacconists, and ship figureheads such as the huge HMS Calcutta, made in Mumbai 1831 of Indian hardwood.

I was hugely fascinated by the work of Mary Linwood (1755-1845), a woman who imitated the Old Masters and British artists to recreate their work in needlepoint. Her fantastically detailed works showed an incredible amount of talent, yet how to categorise an artist who, while incredibly able, does not create original works?

Towards the end of the exhibition there were displayed assorted sculptures, artefacts and textiles, from places such as Beamish Museum in County Durham. These reveal the wide-ranging skills and talents of folk art practitioners. At the end, archival photographs displayed some other examples of folk art, including one man who transformed his back garden into a wonderland, and the chapel built in Orkney by Italian prisoners during the Second World War.

Overall this was a fascinating exhibition, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is on until the end of August, so do try to catch it if you can.

The Italian Chapel in Orkney (taken by me on holiday last year)

The interior of the Italian Chapel

Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation – Tate Britain

On Saturday I visited Tate Britain to see two exhibitions which were due to end shortly. In fact, one of them, Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation, has now ended – the last day was Sunday. I was originally in two minds whether to go to see this, but I’m really glad I did.

Kenneth Clark is not someone I had ever heard of before this exhibition, but it seems that he made a significant contribution to the study and appreciation of art during the 20th century. Born into a wealthy family, he used his fortune to collect art and to assist struggling artists. He had wide-ranging tastes: in contemporary terms he had particular preference for the Bloomsbury Group and artists such as Henry Moore, Graham Bell and Victor Passmore. Clark believed that the lack of patronage in the art world was causing artists to be removed from “real life”, and he sought to rectify this.

Clark had no formal art training, and while he produced some excellent books about art, including a fine study of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings, he also made several mistakes, including quite a number of misattributions. Aged thirty, he became director of the National Gallery – one of his first acts was to install electric lights, so that viewers could actually see the artworks when there was not enough natural light. During the Second World War he ensured the safety of the artworks by evacuating them to Wales.

Towards the end of his life Kenneth Clark presented the groundbreaking series Civilisation, which proved a landmark arts documentary in the 1960s. I left the exhibition with a great deal of admiration for this man who was clearly so passionate about art.