I seem to spend a fair amount of time at the moment looking at catalogues for exhibitions which I can’t attend. Today’s review is no different, but I do have a chance of seeing it before Christmas, so fingers crossed. However, for those not able to catch The Legend of King Arthur: Pilgrimage, Place and the Pre-Raphaelites, there is at least a rather lovely catalogue for your perusal…
Edited by Natalie Rigby, with contributions by Alison Smith, Joanna Banham, Sarah Crown, Jim Cheshire and Jacqueline Nowakowski, the catalogue of The Legend of King Arthur brings us to the glorious lands of Arthurian legend, as envisaged through the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers. The exhibition itself tours William Morris Gallery in London, Tuille House in Carlisle and Falmouth Art Gallery over the next year, each venue bringing their own collection and contribution to play in the interpretation of the material, which is a good twist on the format of a touring exhibition.
|The Love Potion (1903) Evelyn De Morgan|
Hospitality: The Admission of Sir Tristram to the Fellowship of the Round Table (1851)
Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die! (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
It is easy to forget the sheer amount of Pre-Raphaelite art on the subject and how long it remained a touchstone, from the very inception of the movement right up to the First World War over half a century later. Not only that, but you can almost feel that the conviction in the subject matters strengthens the piece, so John William Waterhouse’s 1916 Tristan and Isolde is arguably a far more confident peace than Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s piece on the same subject from 1867, which face each other in the catalogue. At a time when art was abstracting, the clarity of Waterhouse’s vision remains breath-taking and the rich colours of Isolde’s robes are astonishingly present, in comparison to Rossetti’s dreamlike fuzz in a darken room.
The chapters take you through Pre-Raphaelite art, King Arthur and Victorian poetry – many thanks for the reproduction of one of my favourite illustrations, Daniel Maclise’s alarmingly camp King receiving Excalibur with an expression that seems to say ‘For me? Joy!’…
Following on, we find Tennyson in Cornwall, walking in the footsteps of his subjects and how that influenced his descriptions, then on to how Cornwall and King Arthur exist together in the public consciousness and physical reality. Having visited Cornwall many times, it is almost impossible not to believe in the return from Avalon when you are stood on the cliffs of Tintagel. It is a curious mix of religious belief, archaeological discourse and pure faith when you look at all the aspects of Arthurian legend, but much like any religion, searching for fact is missing the point. I remember asking as a child if King Arthur existed and the answer is of course ‘It’s not as simple as that,’ which I think is one of the best answers of all to any question. There is a handy list of all the places to visit, both real and fictional at the end should you fancy going in search of the Once and Future King. Having visited Dozmary Pool as a child, there is a magic, no better word for it, in these sites and it does make me long for the long sunny days to go off to Cornwall once more. In the meantime, this catalogue, packed with gorgeous reproductions of glorious art will merrily add a touch of wonder to the long, dark winter ahead of us.
|Launcelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail (1896-8) Edward Burne-Jones|