Britain's "first modern art movement" in Tate show

LONDON Mon Sep 10, 2012 12:28pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - The exquisite detail, vivid colors and radical 19th century style of the Pre-Raphaelites light up London's Tate museum with a new exhibit of Britain's "first modern art movement".

The 180 paintings, sculptures and tapestries of "Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde" comprise the largest exhibition of the movement's works at the Tate Britain since 1984. It runs from September 12 until January 13.

The show aims to demonstrate that the group led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais were Britain's first modern art movement, co-curator Jason Rosenfeld said.

"They lead to a very different story of modern art than the one that you're perhaps accustomed to seeing in modern art museums," Rosenfeld told Reuters.

"These are different tendrils of art coming out of pre-Raphaelitism. Viewers who are familiar with symbolism or surrealism will see affinities with these works which are mostly figurative here, and show the links to bold, modern, figurative tradition in art in the 20th century."

Rosenfeld of Marymount Manhattan College in New York worked on the exhibit alongside fellow co-curators Alison Smith from the Tate and Yale University Professor Tim Barringer.

The collection includes "Ophelia" by Millais. The artist spent months painting the lush detailed background of Hogsmill river and the effects of natural light whilst leaving a blank space to paint the figure of his model Elizabeth Siddall in a bathtub later on in his studio.

Another highlight of the exhibition is "Lady Lilith" by Rossetti, which depicts a red-headed beauty in her dressing room, brushing her hair with delicate roses featured in the background.

Rossetti features heavily in the exhibition, as one of the core members of the art movement, alongside Holman Hunt and Millais. The curators were able to obtain most of their works for the exhibition so visitors could track their journey from novice to maturity.

The artists were known as revolutionary at the time, for their use of bright colors and arresting imagery.

"When these things were exhibited in the late 1840s and (at) the Royal Academy, they really stuck out," Rosenfeld added.

"They aimed to make a splash in these pictures and they did it through their precision of detail and their bright coloration and their lack of shadow and the assaultive way that they address your eye. They really grab you."

The star of the show, for Rosenfeld, is "The Lady of Shallott" by Hunt, which is on loan to Britain for the first time in 60 years.

"People will see this picture and be really astounded by its visual splendour and composition. The way that he's interpreted that crazed hair, the curling balletic pose, the coloration which is so bold and brilliant," Rosenfeld said.

"The painting is a real knock-out and has a spectacular frame and it's the Hollywood blockbuster of its day produced by Hunt, very late in his career but it is masterpiece of the period which is less familiar to viewers."

(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang)

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