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23 Feb 2018

American tour allows hidden gems to shine at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Displays will be changing at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) later this year, as Birmingham Museums Trust undertakes its largest touring exhibition to date through a partnership with the American Federation of Arts (AFA).

Victorian Radicals will see approximately 200 works from Birmingham’s world-class collection tour to at least six venues in the United States from October 2018. The exhibition will showcase Birmingham’s rich artistic heritage to a whole new audience across the Atlantic – helping to raise the profile of the the city and its collection, and raise money for the redevelopment of BMAG as part of wider fundraising plans.

With most gallery changes taking place in June 2018, visitors are encouraged to see current displays at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery over the coming months before the tour begins.

The touring exhibition tells the story of three generations of young artists and designers who revolutionised the visual arts in Britain: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris and his associates; and the artists and makers in Birmingham and elsewhere who carried and developed their ideas into the 20th century. Artists include Kate Bunce, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Simeon Solomon and Birmingham-born Edward Burne-Jones.

Featuring an unprecedented selection of paintings, works on paper, and decorative arts, the tour also offers the opportunity to refresh the displays at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Rarely exhibited artworks have been carefully chosen by the museum to take the place of those sent on tour.

The gallery changes include a new display of paintings and watercolours by Birmingham-born landscape artist David Cox. Cox was one of the best-known Birmingham artists of the mid-nineteenth century, famous for his atmospheric depictions of the British countryside and coast. Birmingham Museums Trust has the largest collection of his work anywhere in the world, and his acclaimed watercolour and oil landscape paintings, including Crossing the Sands, will appear prominently in this new display.

Visitors will also be able to see a new display of Victorian and Edwardian paintings, many of them unseen in recent years, including works by William Powell Frith, Frederic Leighton, Albert Moore, Edward Poynter, John Singer Sargent and George Frederic Watts.

A selection of Pre-Raphaelite favourites will remain on display, including Ford Madox Brown’s The Last of England and Burne-Jones’s The Star of Bethlehem, and will be joined by artworks often requested by visitors, including ER Hughes’s Night with her Train of Stars, and paintings by Arthur Hughes, John Everett Millais, Emma Sandys and Simeon Solomon.

Caring for the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world, along with a wealth of Victorian fine and decorative art, clothing, and jewellery, Birmingham Museums is uniquely placed to create a touring exhibition of the scale and ambition of Victorian Radicals.

Toby Watley, Director of Collections at Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “This is Birmingham Museums Trust’s largest ever touring exhibition. It will bring the story of the city’s pioneering artistic figures to America, for the first time in this depth: from the progressive work of the Pre-Raphaelites to the inspiring designs of the Arts and Crafts movement.

“The fact we are able to hold a tour of this scale highlights the strength and importance of the city’s collection, which is in demand from international venues. This is an exciting opportunity for Birmingham, helping to raise the profile of both the city and its collection internationally.
“The city has a vast collection and touring these artworks gives us the perfect opportunity to refresh our displays at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. We will be able to showcase rarely seen artworks, which are often requested by visitors, and continue to tell the story of Birmingham’s and Britain’s revolutionary 19th century artists.”

Opening at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in October, Victorian Radicals will then tour to the Vero Beach Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, the Yale Center for British Art, Nevada Museum of Art and The Frick Pittsburgh. The exhibition has been devised in partnership with the American Federation of Arts (AFA), a non-profit organisation that works collaboratively with museums around the world to travel art exhibitions.

Many of the objects in the exhibition have been newly conserved, ensuring they can travel safely and look their best both on tour and when they return to Birmingham.

Curators of the touring exhibition include guest curators Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor and Chair of the History of Art at Yale University, and Martin Ellis, freelance curator, lecturer, and broadcaster, alongside Victoria Osborne, Curator of Fine Art at Birmingham Museums Trust, specialising in British 19th century works on paper. Their new research is increasing knowledge and understanding around the city’s collection.

Visitors still have a few months left to see current displays at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The last chance to see current displays will be the weekend of 9th and 10th June. For more details on gallery changes, keep up to date via Birmingham Museums Trust’s website and social media pages.

Councillor Brigid Jones, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Birmingham has the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world and it’s fantastic that art lovers across America will be able to see some of these works, including pieces by our very own Edward Burne-Jones.

“While these 200 works are on tour, visitors to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery will be able to see a new display of Victorian and Edwardian paintings, including pictures by another city-born artist, David Cox.

“This is an international city rich in culture and I hope visitors to the Victorian Radicals tour will be tempted to further explore its heritage.”
Victorian Radicals will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the American Federation of Arts in association with DelMonico Books-Prestel. Featuring essays by the exhibition’s curators and sumptuous new photography, the book will be available from October 2018 in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery shop and online at shop.birminghammuseums.org.uk.

Images are of artworks that will be going on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as part of the changes in June.

Credits are:
• Dreamers, 1850-1882, Albert Joseph Moore © Birmingham Museums Trust
• Crossing the Sands, 1848, David Cox © Birmingham Museums Trust
• Garden Flowers ( Making A Posy ), 1855-56, William Powell Frith © Birmingham Museums Trust