Britain saw an extraordinary artistic flowering in the middle years of the 19th century. Painting was transformed from something principally intended for the gratification of wealthy patrons to works of a great variety of types that served a serious and challenging purpose. Arts of all kinds proliferated and were seen as the expression of a national culture.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848 and in which Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti were the leading figures, sought to treat subjects in which protagonists were represented at moments of personal crisis or in circumstances of distress, whether based on the Bible, literary texts or on themes taken from modern life.
In the same period, landscape art progressed from concerns with the representation of an idyllic refuge to an understanding of the mechanisms of physical geography. Ruskin sought to guide the careers of individual members of the group and especially encouraged artists to look to the historic European traditions, with Rossetti and Burne-Jones emerging as artists of individuality and sophistication.
At the same time, a classical revival gathered momentum from about the mid-1860s, with painters such as Leighton engaging with the European academic method. As the century wore on, artists increasingly sought to evoke mood in their painted themes rather than narratives, relying on abstract pictorial qualities of colour, pattern and texture, meshed with psychological power, and thus what has come to be called the Aesthetic Movement was established as the defining artistic impetus of the later Victorian period.
Many of the finest works of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic art are in British museums and galleries which we visit on this tour.
Oxford, Birmingham. The tour starts at Oxford Railway station at 1.45pm with the short drive to the Ashmolean Museum, a university institution since 1678. The present building was opened in 1845. The collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, many of which belonged to the Tractarian Thomas Combe, includes Millais’s Return of the Dove to the Ark. Millais’s portrait of Ruskin, made at Glenfinlas in Scotland in 1853, is also here. Travel by train to Birmingham. First of two nights here.
Birmingham, Wightwick. Founded in 1867 as a symbol of prosperity and civic pride, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has important Pre-Raphaelite paintings (some absent on a USA tour) and an unsurpassed collection of drawings. Rossetti’s oil masterpiece The Blue Bower and James Whistler’s Aesthetic composition Symphony in White are at the Barber Institute, and St Philip’s Cathedral has astonishing stained glass windows by Burne-Jones. A Victorian country house, Wightwick Manor has many Pre-Raphaelites including Burne-Jones’s oil version of Love among the Ruins and many recently bequeathed sketches by Rossetti.
Liverpool. By train to Liverpool. The complex of Neo-classical buildings created as a civic acropolis in the heart of Liverpool includes the splendid Walker Art Gallery. Among the highly distinguished Pre-Raphaelites are Millais’s early masterpiece Isabella and an important collection of landscapes by artists of the Liverpool School, including William Davis and Daniel Alexander Williamson. There are also excellent paintings by George Frederic Watts and Frederic Leighton. First of two nights in Liverpool.
Liverpool, Port Sunlight. Sudely was the home of one of Liverpool’s principal art patrons, ship-owner George Holt, and his collection remains here, revealing the style in which Victorian merchants lived. The paintings include landscapes by Turner and examples of Pre-Raphaelite followers such as J.M. Strudwick. Centrepiece of the village created for the employees of Lever Brothers soap-works, the Lady Lever Art Gallery exemplifies the Victorian principle that art should be edifying, educational and available to all. The collection is an astonishingly rich one.
Manchester. Various arts institutions founded in the 19th century were amalgamated to form Manchester City Art Gallery, which occupies a magnificent palazzo built in the 1830s. The Victorian paintings, many from the collections of Mancunian patrons, are superb. Among the masterpieces of Pre-Raphaelite art are Ford Madox Brown’s stupendous observation of Victorian life, Work, and Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd. Coach transfers to Manchester Station are provided at 2.00pm and 3.00pm.
Art historian, lecturer and writer. As well as being a specialist in 19th-century British art, he has a deep interest in Sicily, its architecture and political and social history. A graduate of the Courtauld Institute, he has organised various exhibitions including Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature (Tate Britain 2004) and John Ruskin: Artist & Observer at the National Gallery of Canada and Scottish National Portrait Gallery (2014). His interest in John Ruskin led to our tour Ruskin’s Venice.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £1,590 Single occupancy: £1,860
Hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; three dinners with wine, water, coffee; travel by private coach and train; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Du Vin, Birmingham: housed in a former Victorian Eye Hospital in central Birmingham. Rooms are comfortable and recently refurbished. Hope Street Hotel, Liverpool: in a salubrious area between the cathedrals, it brings good modern design and comforts into a 19th-century factory and adjacent 1960s police station. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour. A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing.
Between 10 and 22 participants.