The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth

From London, about 1 3/4 hours from Waterloo Station to Bournemouth, then 15 minutes walk from the centre.

This is a very individualistic gallery, containing the personal collection of art formed by Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes, presented to the town of Bournemouth and opened to the public in 1919. The paintings include Pre-Raphaelite and later Victorian works as well as various pictures by Continental artists and much sculpture. I would rate this gallery along with the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Lady Lever Gallery near Liverpool as one of the best 'personal' museums in Britain.

Work by the Pre-Raphaelite School includes Venus Verticorda by Rossetti, Little One who Straight has come down the Heavenly Stairs, a large, sentimental picture by Arthur Hughes, two small coastal scenes by John Brett, rather poorly hung to appreciate his minutely detailed style, and Simeon Solomon's The Annunciation, a small picture focussed in on the two faces. A rare picture by Laura Alma Tadema, wife of Laurens Alma Tadema is Always Welcome, a small picture showing a woman in bed - sick probably - with a little child visiting. It is sentimental but well executed, with an obvious interest in patterns in the drapery. Lord Leighton has a good study for Perseus and Andromeda, (the completed picture is in the Walker Art Gallery). There are also works by Byam Shaw (including The Prodigal's Return) and by Albert Moore.

Other paintings in the spirit of Pre-Raphaelitism include The Awakening by John Charlton, Head of an Italian Girl by J. W. Godward, and a very true-to-nature landscape by B. W. Leader. T. M. Rooke's King Ahab's Coveting has six panels, showing the story told with ornately dressed figures. An altar effect is obtained, with a good sense of decorative flatness, slightly lost in the last two pictures which show perspective, carefully avoided elsewhere. Psyche at the Throne of Venus by E. M. Hale is very reminiscent of a Waterhouse painting, and in style is Alma Tadema-ish, with marble, strewn petals, and even a Venus who looks like Alma Tadema's wife. There is a too sentimental Gentle Spring by Amy Sawyer - not a patch on the one by Sandys in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and a better picture by the same artist called Gentle Spring Brings her Garden Stuff to Market, which is highly decorative.

The collection is strong on nudes, including several works by William Etty, Susannah by Frederick Goodall, and Captive Andromeda by Arthur Hill, as well as the dubious An Egyptian Water Carrier, which seems to be a thin excuse of a title for a woman in a black see-through nightie, leaning on an old pot to give that authentic Ancient Egyptian feel. There is also a Siren by C. Landelle, and best of all, The Butterfly by L. Falero and W. E. Frost's The Sea Cave. Other nice girls are a Bathers Alarmed by Solomon Solomon, where the cause of the alarm (an approaching knight) is almost undiscernable the way the picture is hung, a Wood Nymph by R. Poetzelberger, and a portrait head by C. E. Perugini. Edwin Long has a whole room of paintings, and others scattered around - they are described on his page. A Spanish Flower Seller is reminiscent of Holman Hunt's The Lantern Maker's Courtship, and most of the rest are very much in the Orientalist genre. Other Orientalist works are Moorish Girl by Henrietta Brown, works by Goodall in Egypt, a very eastern looking Judith by Landelle, a Middle Eastern Encampment by Ovide Curtovich, and a picture by James Webb called A Slave Market. Other prominent Victorians represented are numerous. Apart from pictures already noted, on the main balcony are a Louise Jopling painting called Phyllis, a portrait by G. D. Leslie, and a remarkable five-panel Benedicite by Edward A. Fellowes-Prynne, showing angels in different habitats. One picture has brightly coloured fish swimming around the angel, another has exotic birds, and so on. Still on the balcony, there is a copy of Love Locked Out by Anna Lea Merritt, and a feeble version of The Sirens by E. R. Pickersgill with no sex appeal at all. There are some good statues, the best of which are The Shiva Slave by G. Oldofredi, and The Love Message by Prof. Lot Torelli.

In Merton Russell-Cotes's study, apart from those pictures already mentioned, is an uncharacteristically weak, impressionistic The Four Generations by W. Q. Orchardson. The portrait of Merton is by H. Lorimar, and shows him as sardonic and bearded. Lorimar's picture of Lady Russell-Cotes is less good, showing her plump and in a shapeless garment.

On the staircase, apart from those pictures already noted, are a melodramatic A Highland Flood by Edwin Landseer (he also has a small picture of a puppy called Tick Tack). There is a remarkable picture by H. Yeend King called Three Score and Ten, showing a young nurse escorting an old lady from church, with a bright red umbrella against an otherwise grey picture. There is a good sheep study by Charles Jones, and more lively sheep in H. W. B. Davis's Approaching Thunderstorm, Picardy. Werry by Edward Radford shows an exhausted woman in a poor attic, baby in her bed, one toy on the bare floor. Appealing in a very Victorian way.

In the main hall, which has a fountain probably inspired by the one in Leighton House, there is a good Cockatoos, Parrots by H. S. Marks, and in the Drawing room a pleasant statue by O. Anduini called Jael. Also there is A Venetian Girl by Luke Fildes and A Grecian Girl by Edward Radford, with girl, balcony, pots, a few petals, very much on the Alma Tadema bandwagon. Finally, we may note in the Dining Room a large oil by Walter Firle called Luther's Hymn, and a tiny portrait by W. Hunt.

Top of page

Victorian art in Britain