Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Statues on summit of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Bristol has an important collection of Victorian art, as well as much else of great interest. The paintings are often among the best by the artists concerned, and point to very clever buying by the curators.

There are just a few Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Millais has his important The Bride of Lammermoor (1878), and Burne-Jones has The Return (1866), the last of a series of seven St George and the Dragon pictures, painted for the home of the illustrator Miles Birket Foster, and unfortunately overpainted in 1895. It shows the famous knight with lots of nice girls in a characteristic Burne-Jones processional composition. By Arthur Hughes is The Guarded Bower (1866), rather Rossetti-inspired in the figures, the composition, and the birds.

The Classicists are represented by Leighton's The Fisherman and the Syren (The Mermaid) (1857), she wound round him in femme-fatale fashion, and Alma Tadema's archetypical Unconcious Rivals (1893), with girls, marble, statuary, flower petals and deep blue sea glimpsed in the background.

Various other important Victorian artists are represented. Francis Danby was a local man, and there are various pictures by him, including his early 'small children in rustic surrounds' compositions from the 1820s, views around Bristol, and the picture which established his reputation, Sunset at Sea after a Storm (1824), very romantic with red clouds, contrasted with survivors from some wreck in the foreground. Lesser Bristol artists are described further down this page. W. F. Yeames has a good Defendant and Counsel (1895), a large scene with a close-up viewpoint for intimate sympathy with the fair defendant; her lawyer is awaiting her response to a question and the mood is of urgency.

The Orientalist painter David Roberts is represented by a typically large painting The Temple of Dendera, Upper Egypt (1841), with seriously impressive pillars, painted faces and heiroglyphs on stone, and figure groups in the foreground to emphasise scale. James Ward has a good portrait of man, dog plus pigs called The Swineherd (1810). H. P. Briggs, a forgotten RA, has an impressive portrait of Rammohan Roy (1832).

George Vicat Cole has a Landscape with Figures: Harvest Time, and James Tissot has his well-known Les Adieux (1871), one of his first pictures painted in England. Frank Dicksee's La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1902) is one of the very best paintings of this popular subject, and has a knight in armour standing transfixed by a girl with long red hair leaning down over him from horseback. We may also mention Weston Sands (1857), a joint production by W. H. Hopkins and F. Havell jumping on the William Powell Frith bandwagon.

The Bristol School of artists has a whole room to itself. There are watercolours and a small still-life oil by William James Mueller, and good work by Samuel Colman, who worked in Bristol 1816-38 - notably The Coming of the Messiah and the Destruction of Babylon, St James's Fair, Bristol and David Dancing Before the Ark of the Covenant. Edward Bird RA settled in Bristol just before the turn of the 19th Century, and his work in the collection includes a self portrait, a lively The Reading of the Will Concluded, and a lady in eastern costume (actually an imposter) called Princess Caraboo. Lesser work is by the local artists Rolinda Sharples, James Baker Pyne and William West.

Later artists represented in the collection include George Clausen with an excellent early picture in his Dutch period and other work, the marine painter William Matthew Hale, Alfred Munnings, and H. S. Tuke. By the Newlyn artist Stanhope Forbes is an excellent big oil called Home Along: Evening (1905), with all the best features of the artist's work, and by Lucy Kemp-Welch is the very large Timber Hauling in the New Forest, with massive shire horses and a Herkomer-inspired peasant leading them. We may also note Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale's The Lover's World, and the overly-sweet pictures by local artist John Simmons. Other work is by Ernest Crofts, Jacombe-Hood, Ernest Board (including the pictures in the entrance hall) and Robert Morley.

The early British School includes portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence (a larger than life full length portrait of William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck), and Thomas Hudson. We may also mention Diana and Callisto (1765-7) by Richard Wilson - figures in a landscape with ruins in the manner of Claude Lorrain, and the rather later Arcadian Shepherds by Joshua Cristall.

The modern gallery has cleverly chosen figurative and other representational work. There is a Head of a Negro by Glyn Philpot (akin work is in the Brighton gallery), an oil and pencil picture of doctors and nurses by the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, a Venetian landscape by Christopher Wood and a triptych called Tennis (1930) by Eric Ravilious.

Sculpture in the collection includes modern portraits by Epstein. The most important Victorian sculptor represented is E. H. Baily, who was responsible for the Nelson on top of the column in Trafalgar Square. In the Bristol gallery are his excellent Sleeping Nymph and Eve at the Fountain (the unlabelled statue on the stairs), and busts of George Canning in plaster and Thomas Lawrence in marble. F. Derwent Wood was an important sculptor of the turn of the century, and by him are a full size nude girl Truth, and a 3ft high Daedelus Equipping Icarus (1895). Among extensive collections of British porcelain are a bust of a young Queen Victoria in Parian Ware, produced by the Copeland manufactury after Matthew Noble. In this context we may also note a late 19th Century Wedgwood copy of the Portland Vase, and hideous Plymouth and Bristol figures from the 1770s.

The foreign collections of paintings includes representative symbolist work by Gustave Moreau (a small Perseus and Andromeda, c.1870) and Odilon Redon, as well as work by Renoir, Pissarro, Corot, Courbet, Sisley etc, and a large romantic Salon painting Heather in Bloom, Morning (1911) by W. Didier Pouget. Competely irrelevant to these pages are much earlier foreign work by Le Brun (The Brazen Serpent), a portrait of Martin Luther by Cranach the Elder, and an enormous Noah's Ark by a Dutch artist based in England, Jan Griffier.

As well as the English porcelain mentioned already, the Bristol museum also contains collections of Oriental ceramics (Schiller collection), fossils, minerals, and building stones of local interest.

A few minutes walk up the road are the Victoria Rooms, with more sculpture.

Top of page

Bristol artists // Victoria Rooms, Bristol

Victorian art in Britain

Home