Pre-Raphaelites at Delaware Art Museum
Post #1106 • January 2, 2008, 12:57 PM • 22 Comments
Wilmington, DE - Delaware is an important landmark for American illustration. Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, and the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania saw nearly every major American illustrator of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries come through either as a teacher or a student. It seems fitting that Wilmington is also home to a major collection of works by one of the most illustrative movements of fine art, Pre-Raphaelitism. In 1935 a local textile magnate bequeathed his considerable Pre-Raphaelite holdings to an early incarnation of the Delaware Art Museum. These objects and ones acquired since then just returned home from a nine-city tour last September, where they have been opulently and permanently installed.
The ingredients that went into Pre-Raphaelitism ought to have cancelled each other out. Such pairings include narrative and Art for Art's Sake, Medieval faith and Renaissance empiricism, religiosity and lust, and diverse ranks in the Brotherhood (including a Greek woman and a Jew) coupled with a fetish for a particular copper-headed type with skin as white as fired porcelain. Throw in, for good measure, the notion that art had been going downhill since the cinquecento, and the whole project looks positively nutty.
And yet it all works in its way. Despite the numbing detail and cornball theatricality, great art gets through here and there, evidence that art doesn't care what artists get excited about as long as they get excited about something. This movement was the last to attempt aesthetic heights through illusionist realism until the Photorealists, and where the compositions as a whole don't get sucked down by the effort, they succeed. Rossetti, especially, gives one the impression of bathing in jewels, rather than being pelted by them. The exhibition does fine work presenting a range of objects, including the books so important to the movement, and makes the Delaware Art Museum a required destination for those of us who enjoy this work in the way that we enjoy occasional listenings of heavy metal, and for largely the same reasons. See more at the website.