25 May 2020

Volunteer Views:
Pre-Raphaelite Works

Having volunteered with the Learning Team since January last year, I have come to know Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery very well. Whilst the current situation has meant that I am sadly separated from one of my favourite places in the city, the BMAG Virtual Tour  means that I can still explore artworks online. This blog post will explore one of my favourite aspects of the museum, the Pre-Raphaelite collection, which I invite you to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.

In 1848, seven young friends joined together to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a collective of artists and poets. Their vision was to return to the highly pigmented, simplistic style of Medieval Italian art before Raphael, exploring the era of 1483-1520. Birmingham holds over 3,000 Pre-Raphaelite paintings, drawings and prints, with many currently featuring in international exhibition tours. However, the three works mentioned in this blog post can be found in The Pre-Raphaelite Gallery of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, providing a beautiful sanctuary to visit in person, or online.

An English Autumn Afternoon, 1852-1853. By Ford Madox Brown
An English Autumn Afternoon - Ford Madox Brown.

Produced in around 1852, this painting depicts a couple sitting leisurely before an expansive rural countryside. An elaborate birdhouse can be seen towards the left, while upon the horizon, the next village can just about be glimpsed. This seems to present the perfect scene of social isolation - whilst many of us perhaps don’t have such a picturesque view from our back garden - we are appreciating the great English countryside now more than ever. Orange tones reveal the first hints of autumn, whilst maintaining the final glow of summer. This painting presents its own little rural kingdom, causing the viewer to feel closer to nature as they gaze upon it.

Boer War, 1900-1901 - Last Summer Things Were Greener, 1901. By John Byam Liston Shaw
Last Summer Things Were Greener - John Byam Liston Shaw.

Even just the title of this painting begins to evoke mournful feelings, especially during this difficult time when we’re nostalgic for previous holidays and times with loved ones. The figure depicted is the artist’s sister, Margaret Glencairn, who is mourning her cousin George, killed in the Boer War. While surrounded by a lush green landscape, including a body of water that reflects the scene back to her, she remains lost in thought, remembering a ‘greener’ time. The hints of purple, within the heather and the object that she holds, offer glimmers of hope for a more colourful future.

Night with her Train of Stars, 1912. By Edward Robert Hughes
Night with her Train of Stars - Edward Robert Hughes.

This painting immediately caught my eye with its beautiful aquamarine colour scheme and flocks of birds appearing almost as fluttering leaves. The title of the painting derives from W. E Henley’s poem Margaritae Sorori, which translates as Sister Margaret. The ethereal atmosphere of the painting Is felt within the words of the poem, with the ‘darkening air’ that ‘thrills with a sense of the triumphing night’, and the ‘smoke’ that ‘ascends in a rosy-and-golden haze.’ My favourite aspect is the twinkling stars towards the left, trailing off into the distance and suggesting an infinite chain of angels. The central angel holds a child, raising a hand to his lips to signal silence, so that we experience the painting in these sleepy, muted tones.