Birmingham has a huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, largely built up from bequests and gifts rather than purchases. As well, there are paintings by many other Victorian artists whose works are hard to find in London.
View of the Art Gallery.
The gallery opened in 1886, the series of galleries being described at the time as 'structurally fine and possessing some elements of grandeur, but the detail of ornament is poor and incongruous'. It initially consisted of five rooms, and a vestibule with statues. The round upstairs entrance hall, today hung Victorian-style from the top to the bottom of the walls with a variety of paintings by many different artists, initially was hung with the town's picture collection, including some 40 pictures by David Cox. There were 'two inferior examples' of Rossetti - hardly thought so now - and Leighton's Condottiere. An important feature of the museum was the Industrial Hall, 'a great room 100 ft in length, in which has been brought together a magnificent collection of objects illustrative of the industrial arts. The plate, glass, metal-work and carved ivories are very fine collections...'.
The entrance hall, not long after the gallery opened.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti is represented by a version of Beata Beatrix, dating later than the one in the Tate Gallery, a large study for an unexecuted oil painting The Boat of Love, and a watercolour, Sir Galahad in the Ruined Chapel. By John Everett Millais there is The Blind Girl, one of his most important pictures, and by William Holman Hunt there is the very ornate The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple and a Shakespeare subject, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The Last of England is one of the best-known pictures by Ford Madox Brown. There is also a statue of Queen Victoria by Thomas Woolner.
However, it is in the later Pre-Raphaelites where the Birmingham collection is both representative and in some cases very rich. Arthur Hughes has The Annunciation and The Nativity, Albert Moore has The Dreamers, and William Morris has two cartoons for angels. Edward Coley Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham, and he has lots of work in the collection: The Star of Bethlehem, for which he produced a tapestry for William Morris's company, the series of four pictures Pygmalion and the Image, and a large number of watercolours and cartoons for stained glass windows. John Brett and Simeon Solomon also have works in the collection, and the Orientalist J. F. Lewis is represented by the fairly typical The Doubtful Coin.
Of the classicists, Lord Leighton has A Condottiere noted above, and a study for And the Sea Gave Up the Dead Which Were In It, and G. F. Watts has A Roman Lady. The original opening exhibition at the gallery, we should note, was 80 pictures by Watts, together with a small Burne-Jones exhibition.
There are many other impressive Victorian artworks in the collection. They include Wise and Foolish Virgins by W. J. Wainwright, and architectural drawings by the late follower of the Pre-Raphaelites T. M. Rooke. Sidney Meteyard has impressive pictures, including I am half sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott, and Kate Bunce, who studied at the Birmingham School of Art, has the Rossettilike The Keepsake. Perhaps the chef d'oeuvre of E. R. Hughes is Birmingham's very blue, very symbolist Night and her Train of Stars.
As well there are portraits by Joshua Reynolds and George Romney, William Dyce's The Woman of Samaria, and seascapes and paintings of farmers and fishermen by various turn of the century artists. A note must also be made of the large oil Charity by William Bouguereau.
As well as all the paintings, Birmingham has excellent collections of Victorian craft production: jewellery, pottery, including probably the best collection of work by William de Morgan and representative pots by the Martin Brothers, ironwork and other decorative output, especially stained glass windows. The art nouveau collection is large also. As might be expected, there are good things in the museum from members of the Birmingham School of Art, and from local artistic firms such as Elkington.
The Birmingham pages note other places for the Victorianophile to visit in the centre, or the museum can be taken as a good starting place for a brief walk to look at some sculpture and the Burne-Jones windows in the cathedral (this overlaps with some of the other pages). Excellent terra cotta sculpture may be seen on the Law Courts.
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Birmingham pages // Outside in the square // Victorian art in England
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