press release

The Van Gogh Museum presents a major retrospective exhibition of work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), one of the most remarkable artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Rossetti is best known for his mysterious women, medieval settings, dreamlike atmosphere and sensual, redheaded femmes fatales. This first retrospective of Rossetti in the Netherlands features some 200 works reflecting every facet of the artist's many talents: paintings, drawings, stained-glass windows, furniture, photos and jewellery, as well as poetry. It was in late 1848 that Dante Gabriel Rossetti founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood together with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. The artists who made up the movement, which lasted for only a few years and never counted more than seven members, shared an abhorrence for everything that the traditional Royal Academy represented. Reacting to the constraints imposed by this institution, they sought a return to the pure simplicity of art that they believed had been lost after the Renaissance. At first, Rossetti drew in the graphic style that typified Pre-Raphaelite art, with powerful literary themes adopted from writers such as Goethe and Edgar Allan Poe. At the same time, he made watercolours and drawings of medieval subjects, including the legends of King Arthur, combining starkly contrasting colours with a hint of romanticism. Some twenty of the rarely exhibited drawings made by Rossetti in the 1850s of his wife and muse Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862) are shown in Amsterdam. Rossetti began painting his characteristic female figures inspired by Italian Renaissance portraits in 1860. The often symbolic depictions of legendary heroines such as Helen of Troy, Lady Lilith, Pandora, Proserpine and Mariana are noteworthy for the particular similarity of the pose, the bright colours and the many attributes with which these graceful women are depicted. The resultant harmonious effect is emphasised all the more by the original frames, designed by Rossetti himself, in which many of the paintings are still contained. One of the models portrayed by the bohemian Rossetti was his lover Jane Morris-Burden (1839-1914), wife of his friend and pupil, William Morris. In 1865 Rossetti had a series of photos taken of her, probably in preparation for certain compositions. A number of photos from the series, which represents a valuable addition to the studies and sketches, are included in the presentation. Of the later paintings on the themes of life and death inspired by the story of Dante and Beatrice, Beata Beatrix (Tate, London, c. 1863-70) and Dante's Dream (the Walker, National Museums Liverpool, 1871) are the absolute highlights of the exhibition. Beata Beatrix is one of Rossetti's best known paintings, and at the same time one of his most unusual works. The scene depicts the imminent death of Beatrice, while at the same time referring to the loss of Rossetti's wife Elizabeth Siddal, who died at an early age following an overdose of laudanum. Dante's Dream, Rossetti's greatest work, in which Dante envisions the dead Beatrice in a dream, is perhaps more than any other, a painting in which Rossetti managed to express his artistic ambition. Throughout his life Rossetti refused to exhibit his paintings. However, he did take on a number of public commissions, one of which was the altarpiece known as The Seed of David painted in 1858-64 for Llandaff cathedral in Cardiff (Wales). The scale was far greater than Rossetti was used to, and the nature of the commission required a more conventional technique. Exceptionally, permission has been given for this ambitious triptych to leave the cathedral for the first time for temporary display in Amsterdam. Dante Gabriel Rossetti is organised in collaboration with the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where the exhibition can be seen until 18 January 2004. The show is compiled by Julian Treuherz, Keeper of Art Galleries for National Museums Liverpool, Edwin Becker of the Van Gogh Museum and Elizabeth Prettejohn, Professor of Modern Art at the University of Plymouth, an expert on Victorian art. Pressetext

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Retrospektive