Review: Can The Colourful Pre-Raphaelites Work In Black And White?

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper, Leighton House Museum ★★★☆☆

By Silvia Baretta Last edited 50 months ago
Review: Can The Colourful Pre-Raphaelites Work In Black And White? Pre-Raphaelites on Paper, Leighton House Museum 3
Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection, Silk Room, Leighton House Museum © Kevin Moran Photography

Ethereal women floating through timeless scenarios, romantic knights from the Middle Ages, Renaissance-inspired settings and cardinal virtues: this is what popularly identifies the Pre-Raphaelites' artworks.

But perhaps what people associate most with Rossetti, Millais and co is their bright and vivid tones.

That's why a series of over 100 unique drawings, sketches and watercolours at Leighton House Museum feels a little strange. Most of the artworks here — part of the Pre-Raphaelites on Paper exhibition — are black and white. It takes some adjusting to, and even then, many of the works lack the visual impact of your 'full-blown' Pre-Raphaelite paintings and stained glass.

There's a strong contrast between the colourless drawings and the sumptuous background they're hanging on, and to be fair, this largely works to the show's advantage. Plus it's fascinating to see the drawing techniques; the artists' ability to represent quite intricate scenes using simple graphite. Even in relatively rudimentary sketches, a spiritual, ethereal quality shines through.  

One more thing: artworks are deliberately exhibited without labels; instead you're given an exhibition guide to help you identify them. This can work two ways: either you find it confusing, or you enjoy the fact there's no text distracting you from appreciating the goods on display.

Not your usual Pre-Raphaelite blockbuster then, but an interesting take on these great artists all the same.

Frederick Sandys, King Pelles Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sangreal, 1861. Promised Gift from the Lanigan Collection ® NGC
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Study of the Figure of Love. Promised Gift from the Lanigan Collection. ® NGC
Alfred Hassam, Softened Luster in Her Eye, 1866, Promised Gift from the Lanigan Collection ® NGC
Albert Moore, Female Head in Profile. Promised Gift from the Lanigan Collection ® NGC

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper is on until 29 May at Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, W12 8LZ. Leighton House Museum is open every day except Tuesdays from 10am-5.30pm. Tickets are £10 for adults and £8 for concessions and can be bought on the door.

Last Updated 13 February 2016

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