Victorian poet's work brought to life with visual art
In an exploration of the celebrated Victorian poet’s significant connection with visual art, Christina Rossetti: Vision & Verse brings together paintings, illustrations, works on paper and photography to tell a new and intriguing story about one of the UK’s best-loved poets
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 – the 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 featured 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 will feature in the exhibition, as will Sing-Song, her collection of nursery rhymes for children which are by turns humorous and touching.
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. 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. 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. 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. Dr Susan Owens, Exhibition Co-Curator says: “Christina Rossetti’s enigmatic words and vivid imagery have inspired artists ever since her poetry was first published. The works of art brought together in this exhibition, which include stunning portraits dating from all periods of her life, tell a new and intriguing story about one of the UK’s best-loved poets.”
Christina Rossetti: Vision & Verse
Watts Gallery – Artists' Village, Compton, Surrey
Showing until: 17 March 2019
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