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Beauty and the Beast, 1904, John Dickson Batten, British, 1860–1932, tempera on canvas, 30 1/2 × 26 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by the John Feeney Bequest Fund, 1936P322, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

SEATTLE, WA.- The Seattle Art Museum presents Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement (June 13–September 8, 2019), exploring how three generations of rebellious British artists, designers, and makers responded to a time of great social upheaval and an increasingly industrial world. Organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Birmingham Museums Trust, the exhibition features 150 works from the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art—many of which have never been shown outside of the United Kingdom—including paintings, drawings, books, sculptures, textiles, stained glass, and other decorative arts. They reveal a passionate artistic and social vision that revolutionized the visual arts in Britain. 

Victorian Radicals features work by notable Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts artists including Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Playing out against the backdrop of late 19th-century England, these influential movements were concerned with the relationship between art and nature, questions of class and gender, the value of the handmade versus machine production, and the search for beauty in an age of industry—all relevant issues in our current era of anxiety amid rapidly evolving technologies. 

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Monstrance, ca. 1863, John Francis Bentley, British, 1839–1902, gilded copper and enamel, with glass and precious and semiprecious stones, 26 1/2 × 8 5/8 × 8 5/8 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by Mrs. Anne Hull Grundy, 1981M524, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

This exhibition is perfect for Seattle right now,” says Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. “These artists wanted art to infuse every aspect of life, believing it could be a force for social good. Somewhat paradoxically, they looked back to England’s medieval past for inspiration, revering nature, authenticity, and the handmade—and in doing so, they brought up questions about the purpose of art in society that future generations would continue to grapple with.” 

Victorian Radicals is presented chronologically, tracing a 60-year period across the turn of the 19th century. 

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Proserpine, 1881–82, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, British, 1828–1882, oil on canvas, 31 × 15 3/8 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by the Trustees of the Public Picture Gallery Fund, 1927P7, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

The First Industrial Nation 
In the late 1840s, London’s Royal Academy of Arts dominated artistic practice with a focus on the classical European tradition of painting and sculpture. Artists such as Sir Edwin Landseer, Charles Eastlake, and William Etty were admired by Queen Victoria for their large, dramatic paintings inspired by Renaissance artists. The exhibition opens with an introduction to this tradition that the Pre-Raphaelites would come to reject: a hierarchal reliance on the grand style of history painting. Also at this time, new technologies—including electroplating and the introduction of steam power—were rapidly increasing the speed and output of manufacturing, and the mass-produced objects made, particularly from the hub of Birmingham, were highly ornate.

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Two Gentlemen of Verona (Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus), 1851, William Holman Hunt, British, 1827–1910, oil on canvas, 38 3/4 × 52 1/2 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Purchased, 1887P953, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

The Pre-Raphaelite Avant-Garde 
Led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 with the intent of returning modern art to the simplicity, clarity, and honesty of European painting before the time of Raphael (1483–1520). Drawing inspiration from literature, the Bible, and modern life, these artists insisted on depicting only “what they could see,” with an ethos that revered nature and the immediacy of vivid colors and human emotion. There was also a social interest in the value of labor and the inequities furthered by rapid industrialization. 

A highlight of this section is Hunt’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine Rescuing Sylvia From Proteus (1851), which goes directly to nature to depict a scene from Shakespeare. The artist engaged friends as models and took advantage of new chemical pigments to produce strikingly vivid jewel tones that at the time were seen as garishly bright. Also, John Everett Millais’ The Blind Girl (1854-56) reveals the Pre-Raphaelites’ interest in the primacy of the senses, depicting vision, sound, smell, and touch in a tender scene of modern life. Decorative objects such as handmade silver and gilded vessels crafted in refined, Gothic Revival styles reflect a similar interest in honesty and simplicity. 

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Musica, ca. 1895–97, Kate Elizabeth Bunce, British, 1856–1927, oil on canvas, 30 × 20 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by Sir John Holder, 1897P17, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

Secular Ministry 
A second wave of Pre-Raphaelites emerged after 1857, brought together around the charismatic figure of poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This group was even more inspired by the culture and religion of the Middle Ages, especially the rich colors, importance of narrative, and idealistic approach to beauty. This section also features the Kelmscott Chaucer, elaborately illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones and produced by William Morris, as well as several examples of Morris’s textiles, which remain a major influence in the design world. 

Artists such as Frederick Sandys and Edward Burne-Jones explored feminine archetypes—both positive and negative—in their work. Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix (begun 1877) imagines the death of Beatrice, the beloved of the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri, as a visionary trance; it was also a tribute to artist and muse Elizabeth Siddall, who died of a laudanum overdose in 1862. Also in this section are Burne-Jones’ four Pygmalion paintings depicting Ovid’s myth about a sculptor’s love for his creation. 

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Pretty Baa-Lambs, 1851–59, Ford Madox Brown, British, 1821–1893, oil on wood, 24 × 30 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Purchased, 1956P9, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

Utopias for a New Century 
As the new century approached, new art schools throughout England’s industrial cities emphasized the practical teaching of crafts, alongside organizations inspired by medieval craft guilds. Birmingham became the center of the burgeoning Arts & Crafts Movement, which held that art could directly improve people’s lives and was influenced by socialist utopian ideals. In this arena, women played a key role, becoming leading makers and teachers in these new art centers. 

On view in this section are notable examples of Arts & Crafts decorative objects, including George James Frampton’s “Christabel necklace” (1893-94), featuring the sculptor’s pioneering work in enamel; numerous examples of Martin Brothers Pottery, which embraced a free and humorous style of decoration; and an embroidered textile by Birmingham Municipal School of Art teacher Mary Jane Newill, which will be presented as intended on a bed. 

The paintings on view in this section echo the Pre-Raphaelite interest in precise lines and brilliant color, revealed in works by Maxwell Armfield, Joseph Edward Southall, and Arthur Joseph Gaskin. Kate Elizabeth Bunce’s Musica (ca. 1895-97) depicts a female figure playing a lute against a detailed background of flowers and decorative objects, reminiscent of those produced by the Birmingham School.

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Saint Mark, 1883 (designed 1874), Edward Burne-Jones, British, 1833–1898, stained, painted, and leaded glass, 58 × 25 1/4 × 1 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Bequeathed by J R Holliday, 1927M1016, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

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Chatterton (The Death of Chatterton), Henry Wallis, British, 1830– 1916, ca. 1855–56, oil on mahogany, 6 3/4 × 10 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by William Kenrick, 1918P43, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

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Morgan le Fay, 1864, Frederick Sandys, British, 1829–1904, oil on wood, 24 3/4 × 17 1/2 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by the Trustees of the Feeney Charitable Trust, 1925P104, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts. 

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The Christabel Necklace, 1893-94, George James Frampton, British, 1860–1928, silver gilt, champlevé enamel, pearls, and opals, 23 7/8 x 3 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by Mrs. Anne Hull Grundy, 1983M3, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

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"Peacock and Dragon", 1878, William Morris, British, 1834–1896, wool, hand-loom jacquard-woven, Queens Square or Merton Abbey, 67 3/4 × 54 3/4 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by the Friends of Birmingham Museums Trust, 1941M419, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

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Court dress (bodice and skirt), 1893 (fabric designed 1879), Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young, British, (active 1890), Silk, hand-loom jacquard-woven, with machine lace, gold braid, and velvet ribbon (machine- and handstitched), 58 × 22 1/2 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by Mrs. J. Stewart, 1948M36.1, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

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Wall tile, ca. 1880–90, William Frend De Morgan, British, 1839–1917, dust-pressed earthenware painted in underglaze colors on a white slip, 8 1/8 × 8 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Purchased from the Alan Green Collection and presented by the Friends of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery with assistance of the MGC/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, 1981M118, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.