29 April 2008

A Chance to See Some Rarely-Seen Pre-Raphaelite Art in London

For one week, from 23 May to 1 June, there is an unusual exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art in London. The 53 works on view at Fulham Palace are drawn from the Cecil French Bequest, a group of paintings and drawings given to the borough of Fulham in 1953. A few of the paintings are usually on display at Leighton House, but this is an opportunity to see the whole collection, including  no fewer than  26 paintings and drawings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (who lived in Fulham) and representative paintings by such late nineteenth and early twentieth century British artists as Lord Leighton, Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, and George Frederick Watts. Two aspects of this exhibition strike us as odd. First, the admission proceeds benefit the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust–-a charity that seeks to "raise public awareness about the nature, symptoms and dangers of depression." A worthwhile cause, but is Pre-Raphaelite art the right art to promote it? Consider the subjects of some of the paintings on display--The Widow's Prayer (Leighton), The Wheel of Fortune (Burne-Jones, see image at left), Mariana in the South (Waterhouse). Beautiful images, but not always cheerful, to say the least. More surprisingly, the exhibition is on for far too short a period. The expense alone of moving the works to Fulham Palace would seem to justify a showing of some length--a month at least. Why not extend the exhibition into in June, when London is the center of the international art world, with major museum shows, antiques fairs, and auctions? Still, we should be grateful for even a brief chance to see such rarely available--and wonderful-- art.

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