The Reading Art virtual exhibition is a result of a Cultural Engagement project in 2016, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), organised by Dr Serena Trowbridge, Lecturer in English at Birmingham City University. The project is based at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), exploring the literary aspects of their Pre-Raphaelite collection. For the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and those associated with them, painting and poetry were sister arts. Many Pre-Raphaelite paintings were inspired by literature, and many poems were written to accompany paintings. The interest in and practice of these intertwining strands is one which was widespread in Pre-Raphaelitism, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris to less well-known figures such as Edward Hughes and Florence Camm.
The works in the Birmingham collection indicate this breadth of literary engagement, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix (1877), inspired by Dante’s Vita Nuova, to Edward Hughes’ Night with her Train of Stars (1912), based on W.E. Henley’s ‘Margaritae Sorori’. These literary paintings take poetry as their inspiration, depicting a figure from the text, and a particular moment in the poem. We see an idiosyncratic, personal image of what the painter saw as he read. Such literary depictions are common in Pre-Raphaelite works, and indicate the depth of artistic engagement with literature that the Brotherhood and their followers maintained.
The exhibition aims to explore the narratives behind the paintings, providing a way into works of art that draw on the literary texts which interested the Pre-Raphaelites. Click on any of the topics on the homepage – Shakespeare, Dante, Tennyson, the Bible, etc – to see works relating to that topic with commentaries written by Serena Trowbridge, Thomas Knowles and Rebecca Lovell.
All images (c) Birmingham Museums Trust, 2016. Many thanks are due to BMT and BMAG for their help and support for Reading Art, as well as to the AHRC for funding the project.
You can contact Serena Trowbridge with questions, comments or suggestions via this link.