29 November 2012

Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain

The Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at Tate Britain was just the sort of tempt me back there, even though it is a little off the beaten track to be a regular haunt.

Previously I had only seen the free permanent exhibitions at Tate Britain so this was my first chance to see a faulty curated show.

I went on a Thursday evening late in to the run to avoid the worst of the crowds. That worked but it was still busy, which is clearly a good thing.

The works are spread cross seven themed rooms (or is it eight?). Each room's theme is explained clearly and so is the contribution of each work to that theme. There is plenty to read and plenty to learn.

There is some thinking to do to work out the best way round each room and there are no clues to help you so half go clockwise and half go anti-clockwise with the resultant confusion that causes.



The works include a few expected favourites, such as Sir John Everett Millais' Ophelia, that has simply been moved from the free part of the gallery to the exhibition. It is a classic and so deserves its place as one of the major works on how. It also has some local interest for me as the background is taken from the banks of the Hogsmill that enters the Thames at Kingston.

Unsurprisingly there are large dollops of Dante Gabriel Rossetti too.

Paintings dominate the show but there are smatterings of other media such a sample of Morris wall paper and one of his carpets. The later is called Peacock and bird, which is enough to tell you that you will like it.

The big surprise and the undoubted high-light for me was the number, variety and size of works by Edward Burne-Jones that were the main attraction in the final gallery.

I had seen plenty of Burne-Jones at places like Two Temple Place and the V&A but nothing quite on the scale of this.

So much to see and so much to love.

Yet, somehow, the exhibition failed to spark in the way that, say, Hockney did earlier in the year. It was informative and luscious but it lacked the wow factor. It felt more like a school trip to museum than a day out in a gallery.


As if to prove the point, I ventured briefly in to the main part of Tate Britain and soon found several pieces that grabbed my attention in a way that non of the Pre-Raphaelites had.

Perhaps they are too familiar now and perhaps they are just a little too similar to sustain a show on their own.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy the afternoon, because I did, not just as much as I expected.

To end on a plus note, I did take advantage of my Arts Fund card which meant that it cost me about £7 to go rather than the full price of £14.

And some of the money saved on the entrance fee was ploughed back in the cafe on a coffee and a cake. Again the reward of giving something extra back outweighed any guilt from the calories consumed.

I think that I will go back to Tate Britain before too long because of the promise of the few rooms I went in to on the way out rather than the expectation of another exhibition.

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