Review Round Up: Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, National Portrait Gallery

We round up the reviews for the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition examining the untold stories of the women who contributed to the Pre-Raphaelite era.

Thou Bird of God by Joanna Boyce Wells

The Guardian: *** “In the main, women here enter the story as models or love interests, frequently both. Few of the paintings here are portraits in the literal sense. Instead, they show these models and muses assigned feminine roles that evoke the Victorian fantasy of the fallen woman in need of masculine chivalry: prostitutes and mistresses; tragic heroines; much less frequently, femmes fatales.”

Evening Standard: **** “This being the National Portrait Gallery the focus is on the women themselves; it’s social history. As such, it’s riveting.”

The Telegraph: **** “As temptresses and heroines, they animate some of the 19th century Brotherhood’s most acclaimed works of art.”

The Times: “This show about the women behind the bearded brotherhood turns up a neglected talent amid all those fuzzy muses.”

Time Out: **** ” It’s awful, it’s fabulous, it’s decidedly not ‘Victorian’. And it’s worth re-writing the art historical book for.”

iNews: “This exhibition fleshes out Jane Morris and the many other women behind the pale, frank gaze, but they seem destined to be boxed in for ever by the Pre-Raphaelite men – the artists who both shone a light on them and overshadowed them.” “Alongside the works made by women are too many images of female archetypes painted by men. Annie Miller, for example, rising from the lap of her older, moneyed lover and gazing out of a window into a sun-dappled garden in Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853). Even in an exhibition that succeeds in exploring the lives of forgotten women, the male gaze seems inescapable. Or almost inescapable. There’s a portrait by Joanna Wells of her son Sidney, painted in 1859; Wells describes him as ‘a new sort of baby – my own peculiar and exquisite invention’. Hope for the future, then.”

Culture Whisper: **** “The problem with this exhibition was always going to be that most of the images we have of these women were painted by men who wished to see them as tragic beauties or angelic muses, rather than as real people. Effie Gray Millais, who married and then divorced the art critic and artist John Ruskin after their relationship was unconsummated, complained that a portrait he commissioned of her made her look like a painted doll, but that he was thrilled with it.”

The Arts Desk: **** “Pre-Raphaelite Sisters offers tantalising glimpses into the lives behind the pictures and presents these twelve women as real people. Don’t imagine, though, that it overturns the traditional view of women as subordinate to their menfolk.”

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until the 26th January 2020.

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