The sculpture was an unexpected highlight of the Tate's Pre-Raphaelite exhibition a couple of years back and I adore seeing sculptures in museums (the Russell-Cotes have some gorgeous pieces). It's hard to replicate experiencing three-dimensional works of art in a two-dimensional medium and so I was looking forward to getting up close and personal with some good pieces.
|Teucer (1881) Hamo Thornycroft|
|Opening room in the exhibition, with images of Queen Victoria|
|A Royal Game (1906-11) William Reynolds-Stephens|
|Veiled Vestal (1847) Raffaelle Monti|
|Detail of the face|
|Dame Alice Owen (1897) George Frampton|
|Detail of the head|
My main complaint was there were not enough pieces on show, but then I'm guess requesting to borrow a sculpture is a logistical nightmare. On the plus side, my nine year old daughter was utterly hooked in the exhibition, she wanted to see everything and it was a wonderful exhibition for children, containing many whimsical pieces as well as figures. However (and this isn't just a problem at this exhibition) some of the cases were too high for her to see into without my holding her up. On the whole I don't have much to add: it's a nice show and good value for money if you see it in conjunction with Salt and Silver. The chance to see the pieces I've given special mention to made it utterly worthwhile but I didn't feel as enthused by the show as I expected on the whole.
However, in preparation for the exhibition I requested a review copy of the exhibition catalogue and was delighted to receive the massive book in the post. It's not cheap, costing about £45 on Amazon, but you get value for money as it weighs a ton. It has the depth and beauty that I really wanted from the exhibition, richly illustrated with 150 sculptures catalogued and scores of others in the figures. Each sculpture is beautifully photographed and has thought-provoking text. The catalogue made the appreciation of the objects easier, the context and background well-written and fascinating. A problem with the exhibition was that the labels for the objects were sometimes not on or near the sculptures so we had to go looking for things like the Eglington Trophy information. Obviously in a book that is not a problem.
|St George and the Dragon Salt Cellar (1901) Edward Onslow Ford|
It is indeed a lavish book (I do love the word 'lavish'), the illustrations taken from different angles to get around the obvious difficulty in appreciating three-dimensions. I got a far better sense of a narrative in the 'story' of Victorian sculpture, together with a deeper sense of what the Tate were trying to achieve with their show. In a way I wish I had received the catalogue before seeing the show as I may have gone in with a better sense of nineteenth century attitudes in this branch of the arts. Reading the catalogue made me want to go back to see the show, appreciating the pieces in a more in-depth way, which is what a good catalogue should do. It also stands as a damn fine place to start finding out about Victorian sculpture, with a good bibliography, marvellous photography and well-written sections that match the rooms of the show.
If you have the chance, see the exhibition and get the catalogue; by the end of it you will have a definite idea of how innovative the Victorians were, and how they made such good use of new technologies, yet still reached back in their artistic heritage.
For further details of the exhibition, visit the website here.
For the catalogue, visit Amazon for a cheaper price than the Tate shop (and you won't have to carry it home from London).