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Saturday, 12 January 2019

Christina Rossetti: Vision, Verse, Ecology & Faith

In an exploration of the celebrated Victorian poet's significant connection with visual art, Christina Rossetti: Vision & Verse at the Watts Gallery brings together paintings, illustrations, works on paper and photography.

Presenting portraits of the poet and highlights of the many visual images inspired by her words - alongside Rossetti's own intriguing and virtually unknown drawings - this exhibition considers Christina Rossetti's complex attitude to visual art, recognising the enduring appeal of Rossetti's verse to visual artists from the 1850s through to the present day.

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) is among the greatest of English Victorian poets. Born in London to an intellectually minded Anglo-Italian family, Rossetti was the youngest of four supremely talented children, all of whom succeeded as artists and writers.

A precocious and deeply creative child, Rossetti had her own first book of poetry privately printed by her grandfather when she was just 16 years old. The luminous early portraits of the poet that will feature in this show, created by her Pre-Raphaelite artist-brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, highlight the exceptionally visual and creative family environment in which she grew up. Rossetti studied art herself, attending the North London Drawing School in the early 1850s. Her own charming and rarely seen animal drawings feature in the exhibition, as does Sing-Song, her collection of nursery rhymes for children which are by turns humorous and touching.

Christina Rossetti spent her early adulthood surrounded by, and modelling for, key figures of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She also made her own original contributions to the movement by writing poetry for their journal The Germ. Exploring the ways in which Christina and Dante Gabriel creatively collaborated, the exhibition features his illustrations for Goblin Market (1862 and 1865) and The Prince's Progress (1866).

While ostensibly reclusive, Rossetti was very well connected in the British art world, and cared deeply about how her poetry was illustrated, as it was regularly from the 1850s onwards. The exhibition includes lively illustrations to her poetry by Arthur Hughes and Frederick Sandys.

From the 1860s, paintings inspired by Rossetti's poems, such as Arthur Hughes's The Mower (1865), began to appear at London exhibitions, offering freer interpretations of Rossetti's words than were usually possible with printed illustrations. The celebrated pioneer of art photography, Julia Margaret Cameron, based her composition The Minstrel Group on a poem. Sometimes the results alarmed Rossetti, but these reinterpretations set a trend for artists to reimagine her works in pencil and paint that continues to this day.

The intensity of Rossetti's vision, her colloquial style and the lyrical quality of her verse continued to speak powerfully after the poet's death in 1894, and as this exhibition shows, Rossetti's striking imagery has continued to inspire visual artists.

This exhibition is co-curated by Dr Susan Owens, an art historian and writer, and former curator of paintings at the V&A. To coincide with the exhibition an accompanying publication, Christina Rossetti: Poetry in Art, has been released. This is the first art book to explore Rossetti's art and poetry together, including her own artworks, illustrations to her writing, and art inspired by her.

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) is among the greatest of English Victorian poets. The intensity of her vision, her colloquial style, and the lyrical quality of her verse still speak powerfully to us today, while her striking imagery has always inspired artists. Rossetti lived in an exceptionally visual environment: her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was the leading member of the avant-garde Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and she became a favorite model for the group. She sat for the face of Christ in William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World, while both John Everett Millais and Frederick Sandys illustrated her poetry. Later on, the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the great Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff were inspired by Rossetti’s enigmatic verses. This engaging book explores the full artistic context of Rossetti’s life and poetry: her own complicated attitude to pictures; the many portraits of her by artists, including her brother, John Brett, and Lewis Carroll; her own intriguing and virtually unknown drawings; and the wealth of visual images inspired by her words.

Additionally, on Saturday 26 January in the Watts Gallery, Emma Mason will present her own absorbing new study of Christina Rossetti, Christina Rossetti - Poetry, Ecology, Faith, on her spiritual life and her connection with the natural world. A committed supporter of animal welfare, and a keen observer of the diversity of creation, Rossetti considered it her Christian duty to maintain it in a state of equilibrium and equality. Drawing on poetry, diaries, letters and devotional commentaries, the author offers a fresh narrative of the life and work of Rossetti in which her theology and ecology are deemed inseparable if not equivalent.


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