Great Victorian Artists

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Posted 8th May 2018

Great Victorian Artists

Included in our current exhibition, A Pre-Raphaelite Collection Unveiled: The Cecil French Bequest, are works by two of the most successful professional artists of the Victorian period, Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema:

  • Leighton's Venetian genre scene, showing a young widow praying in a church (1865), contrasts with one of his beautiful little oil sketches, At the Fountain.
  • Alma-Tadema is represented by The Pomona Festival (first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1879), showing a rural festivity in the ancient Roman campagna, and by a strikingly original portrait of his second wife Laura Epps (herself an artist) 'interrupted' from her reading of the Graphic, one of the leading illustrated periodicals of the day.

Two artists appearing in the exhibition, who were seen by contemporaries as less varied than these two titans of the Victorian exhibition scene, are Albert Moore and John William Waterhouse. Today, many critics would see them as however quite the equals of their more successful contemporaries. Moore is now recognised as one of the pioneers of the Aesthetic Movement in painting in the 1860s, along with Rossetti and Whistler. Moore worked in a relatively narrow compass, but explored with infinite care the balance of colour and line within his images of static Classical figures. His Apricots (1866) was the first of Moore's pictures to bear his distinctive signature in the form of an anthemion (a palmette design from Classical architecture) which he adopted, as Whistler used a butterfly, to suggest an artist working entirely without words, interested only in tone, form and atmosphere. In his Mariana in the South (c.1897) Waterhouse takes a subject that, like Moore's, needs no detailed explanation. Mariana, in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and more recently in Tennyson and paintings by the early Pre-Raphaelites, is described as an abandoned young bride pining away in a 'moated grange'. Her erotic frustration leads to narcissism as she gazes longingly into a cheval mirror.