Tate Britain’s latest major exhibition charts the romance and radicalism of the Rossetti generation – Dante Gabriel, Christina and Elizabeth (neé Siddal) – showcasing their revolutionary approach to life, love and art. Moving through and beyond the Pre-Raphaelite years, the exhibition features over 150 paintings and drawings as well as photography, design, poetry and more.

Although the Tate has a collection of Rosetti paintings, this is the first time they’ve held a Rosetti exhibition, and it looks beyond the familiar paintings to the poetry and campaigning work, and the other less famous members of the family.

This is also the first retrospective of Elizabeth Siddal for 30 years, featuring her rare surviving watercolours and important drawings.

Despite his modern fame, Dante Gabriel Rosetti rarely exhibited when alive, preferring to work for private patrons than to show in galleries. Today he is more famous than his sister, while the roles were reversed in life.

The exhibition opens with the poems than the paintings, and after a look at their early works, swiftly moves onto the combination that was intrinsic to Gabriel’s practice as a painter-poet.

More personal forms of revolution are explored through the Rossettis’ refusal to abide by the constraints of Victorian society. Works such as Dante Gabriel’s Found begun 1854, Elizabeth Siddal’s Lady Clare 1857 and Christina’s poem The Goblin Market 1859 show how they questioned love in an unequal and materialist world.

In a sense, if you’ve come here for the trademark Pre-Raphaelite paintings that the Rosetti’s are so famous for, then the exhibition opens slightly disappointingly. More informative undeniably, but you have to go through a few rooms before the red headed ladies in voluminous dresses to appear.

The exhibition takes a fresh look at the myths surrounding the unconventional relationships between Dante Gabriel, Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris. The portraits from the later part of Dante Gabriel’s career, are shown in the context of the achievements and experiences of the working women who inspired them.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the exhibition also includes comics, looking at how the Pre-Raphaelites have inspired subsequent artists.

If you visit the gallery arriving via Pimlico tube station, then you might have a preview of the exhibition on the walls, which are decorated with paintings from the Tate’s collection. One of them is the very famous painting, The Beloved, which is in the exhibition, but here in the tube station, has been cut to fit the space and is shown as it so often is, cropped. In doing so though, the image crops out the most troubling aspect of it — the representation of a boy in the foreground, chosen mainly to be as black as possible simply to contrast with the English whiteness of the five ladies behind.

Little is known about the boy who is so often cropped out of the painting, as it has been in Pimlico tube station, but the exhibition gives him a long overdue prominence.

The exhibition, The Rossettis is at Tate Britain until 24th September 2023

Adults: £22 | Children: £5 | Members: Free

Tickets can be booked from here.

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One comment
  1. Richard King says:

    The twenty-two quid admission is a bit steep.

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