Sunday 29 April 2018

Review: Beyond Ophelia: A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet

Yesterday I had an utterly splendid time visiting the Midlands, popping into Cadbury World (the happiest place on earth with a scrummy shop), Birmingham (with obligatory stop in the Art Gallery and Museum, obviously) and then on to Wolverhampton for the National Trust property Wightwick Manor.  The reason for my visit (other than the amazing collection) was their current exhibition, 'Beyond Ophelia'...

The Haunted Wood
This is only the second exhibition of Siddal's work ever, which is astonishing as she is one of the most iconic of all Pre-Raphaelite women, but seeing how much of her work both exists and is in public hands I suppose it's equally unsuprising.  Wightwick Manor hold the second largest collection of her work, after the Ashmolean, after the Mander family (whose home and collection Wightwick is) bought the treasures at auction in the 1960s.  During this year of celebrating 100 years since women started to get the vote and the current interest in women's part in this art movement (excuse my shameless book plug) then Wightwick have created a timely and touching exhibition of Siddal's work.

Lovers listening to Music
On display are a collection of Siddal's pencil sketches, two jewel-like oils and extracts of her poetry.  When the precious sketches were removed from their mounts, some were found to be double-sided and those have been ingeniously framed in a hinged display that allows access to the sketches.  The museum nerd in me was absolutely fascinated in that particular piece of display...

St Cecilia (1860)
The exhibition takes up only one room (with magnificent Morris wallpaper) but the key with Siddal's work is quality, not quantity.  Lord knows I've been to some massive exhibitions at the national museums and left not feeling any closer to the subject than when I'd walked in the first of the rooms.  With 'Beyond Ophelia' Wightwick have achieved the damn near impossible task of making you forget that Miss Siddal had been that poor lass in the bath tub and brought you face-to-face with her as a serious artist and poet of great potential.  I loved the intimacy of the room which even on a busy Saturday was never over-crowded and, together with the whole cavalcade of exceptional Pre-Raphaelite paintings on show in the house, gave one of the most complete and enjoyable Pre-Raphaelite experiences you can have this year.

St Agnes' Eve (1850)
Many thanks to the lovely Hannah Squire, curator of the exhibition for both my badge, showing me around the exhibition and letting me twiddle her frame  (if you excuse the expression), and I thoroughly encourage you to pay the exhibition a visit.  It's on until Christmas Eve and more information is available here.