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Medieval Moderns: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
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FREE romp with the Pre-Raphaelites at NGV
The Princess Out of School, circa 1901, by Edward Robert Hughes, source NGV

I'd been looking forward to the exhibition Medieval Moderns; The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood for quite some time. But with a bit of trepidation.

After watching Desperate Romantics, the BBC TV show based on the group, with all its romping and gorgeousness, I was a bit concerned that this Australian exhibition might not live up to expectations.

I should not have worried. Okay, so it is not about the bed-hopping antics of Gabriel Rossetti and cohort, but the beauty of the artworks is an utter pleasure to behold.

The portrait of the Baroness Deslandes by Edward Burne-Jones, shown above is a recent acquisition.


We are blessed by having a number of Pre-Raphaelite works n Australia because one of the world's top collectors of the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) lived in Australia and amassed an almighty collection.

In fact, the NGV's holdings of works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are world-renowned and form the largest collection in the Southern Hemisphere according to Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV.

For those not aware of the PRB (The Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood) were a group of young painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, James Collinson and Frederic George Stephens who got together in London in 1848.

They were stirrers, movers and shakers and critical of the Royal Academy, which is where artistic standards were coming from at that time.

If they saw beautiful working class girls with classical features and flowing tresses they were in the habit of asking them to model for them. The milliner Lizzie Siddal even lay in a tepid bath for many hours, while Millais painted her as the drowning Ophelia. He ended up with a world famous painting, while she ended up with a cold.

Wikipedia image. "John Everett Millais - Ophelia - Google Art Project


They group loved the Middle Ages and myth and legends and the romantic poets such as Shelley and Byron. They were driven in the words of Oscar Wilde by 'three things the English public never forgives: youth, power and enthusiasm'.

In a double edged sword they sought to modernise art by reviving the practices of the Middle Ages and this is well highlighted in the title of this exhibition -- Medieval Moderns.

The present exhibition offers free entry and one hundred displayed artworks including paintings, prints, decorative arts, furniture, book designs, and stained-glass windows.

There is quite a focus on William Morris who was one of the inspirations behind the later Arts and Crafts Movement in that the display includes some of his gorgeous wallpapers, furniture and a whole bookcase of his famous Kelmscott Press books

Francis BEDFORD Tintern Abbey (1860s) image NGV


Highlights of the exhibition also include Edward Robert Hughes "The princess out of school" (c. 1901), Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Paolo and Francesca da Rimini" (1867), William Holman Hunt's The Importunate Neighbour (1895),

I'd recommend going along and supporting this exhibition. They have even gone to the trouble of creating medieval stylised arches in the room where the exhibition is held.

It is great not having to pay an entry fee to see such a world class event. It triples the pleasure.

There are also a series of free talks which you can find a timetable for here.
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Why? To enjoy a romp with the Pre-Raphaelites
When: April 11 to July 12, 2015, NGV International Ground Level 11 Apr 15 – 12 Jul 15 Open 10am–5pm Closed Tuesday (exc. public holidays)
Phone: 8620 2222 9am–5pm, 7 days
Where: NGV International 180 St Kilda Road
Cost: FREE entry
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