Victorian Radicals @ SAMA

Victorian Radicals: From the PreRaphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement at the San Antonio Museum of Art brings the art of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt, John Millais and other artists and artisans of mid-19th Century England together in a stunning exhibit, showing through January 5th. The lush romanticism, idealization of nature and return to medieval mythic themes and legends grounded the bohemian and early avant guard members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (preferring Medieval and Renaissance art before Raphael), whose members represent some of the most well-known works in the exhibit. The brotherhood challenged the constraints of the formal art academy with vivid colors, flair for detail and a bold vision to bring beauty into the minds and homes of Victorian citizens, faced with the harsh and often ugly reality of the industrial revolution. Many adopted the egalitarian principals of socialism and encouraged women and working class artists, poets and writers to join their nascent aesthetic movement. They were inspired by the poetry of Shelly and Keats and encouraged Oscar Wilde, August Swinburne and emerging Decadent and Art Nouveau artists and writers to join in their Bohemian rhapsody.

Works below by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sydney Harold Meteyard, William Holman Hunt, Samuel Colman and John Brett

Wistful, idealized landscapes, beautiful male and female archetypes and love of myths and classic literature fed their romantic fantasies. The first image below, by Florence Jane Camm, is a beautifully detailed scene in stained glass depicting Beatrice turning away from Dante (from his autobiographical work, La Vita Nueva, 1295). The second portrait of Bacchus, by Simeon Solomon was painted during his residency in Rome, openly embracing pansexual Hellenistic legacies popular in the 19th Century. Rossetti’s Proserpine features his muse, Jane Morris as the Greco- Roman Goddess of the Underworld. These Medieval and mythic themes with the lush romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites remain an enduring influence in Fantasy fiction, easy to see in the works of Le Guin, Tolkien and Lewis Carroll.

“I made a new religion of poetic tradition, of a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions, inseparable from their first expression, passed on from generation to generation by poets and painters. I wished for a world where I could discover this tradition perpetually, and not in pictures and poems only, but in tiles round the chimney piece and in the hangings that kept out the draft.”  William Butler Yeats

The Arts and Crafts movement in England heralded a return to handcraft, emphasizing quality materials and the relationship between an artist and their work. The opaline glass goblet and copper tea service were produced by WH&B Richardson and William Arthur Smith Benson, both members of the Arts and Handicrafts Guild. William Morris & Company carried the banner of the Pre-Raphaelites, heeding Yeats’ call to bring art into the home with meticulous interior designs and beautiful objects to be used in daily life. Art Nouveau and American handicrafts movements were inspired to continue the tradition of artisanship as manufacturing and industry became the dominant aesthetic.

More on the American Arts and Crafts Movement