National Portrait Gallery to explore untold stories of Pre-Raphaelite women

The First meeting of Petrarch and Laura by Marie Spartali Stillman, 1889
The First meeting of Petrarch and Laura by Marie Spartali Stillman, 1889

A new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery will explore the untold stories of 12 women who contributed to the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters will highlight female artists such as Joanna Wells, Marie Spartali Stillman and Evelyn Morgan who played integral roles in the movement but have been largely omitted from history.

The collection will feature paintings displayed by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the second half of the 19th century.

Thou Bird of God by Joanna Wells
Thou Bird Of God by Joanna Wells (National Portrait Gallery/PA)

Its curator said the exhibition would prove the women of the time were not simply “passive mannequins” but “members of an immensely creative social circle”.

The event will see The First Meeting Of Petrarch And Laura by Stillman go on public display for the first time. Photographs, manuscripts and personal items will also tell of how the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters worked as models, muses and companions.

Special focus will be paid to Annie Miller and Fanny Cornforth, who together inspired and modelled for some of the movement’s most famous paintings.

The exhibition will appear next to a collection of work by contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton, which will focus on the painter’s portraiture.

Fanny Eaton by Joanna Wells
Fanny Eaton by Joanna Wells (National Portrait Gallery/PA)

Dr Jan Marsh, curator of Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, said: “When people think of Pre-Raphaelitism they think of beautiful women with lustrous hair and loose gowns gazing soulfully from the picture frame or in dramatic scenes painted in glowing colours.

“Far from passive mannequins, as members of an immensely creative social circle, these women actively helped form the Pre-Raphaelite movement as we know it.

“It is time to acknowledge their agency and explore their contributions.”

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “I am delighted to announce these two new exhibitions for autumn 2019, both of which will be viscerally beautiful and quietly political in highlighting the vital role women have played in shaping artistic movements and genres.

“I am particularly pleased to be collaborating with Elizabeth Peyton to bring her inimitable works to the National Portrait Gallery for the first time.”

The exhibition will run from October 17 2019 until January 26 2020 as part of the gallery’s autumn schedule.


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