John Everett Millais at the Tate Britain

“Millais,” curated by Alison Smith and Jason Rosenfeld, Tate Britain, London. Through Jan. 13. Schedule: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam February 15 to May 18 , 2008, and two venues in Japan: Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art from June 7 to August 17, 2008, and The Bunkamura Museum of Art, August 30 to October 26, 2008. Check out a slide show of the images.

In the Telegraph, Richard Dorment reports: “The early works of John Everett Millais encapsulated the brief moment in English art when Realism emerged out of late Romanticism to produce Pre-Raphaelitism, an artistic movement so emotionally intense it could not be sustained. His pictures are consummate expressions of themes that emerged in art in the late 18th century, realised in a hyper-realistic painting technique not seen since Jan van Eyck. He is the painter of doomed love, brave decisions, noble renunciations and reckless loyalties. High emotion and simmering sexual tension suffuse everything he touched in these years.” Read more.

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones reports: “I’ve discovered that I like the pre-Raphaelites. Learning to despise the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood is almost a rite of passage for art critics. Founded in 1848 in Millais’ studio in London, this self-consciously alternative art movement rejected what it saw as the false sophistication introduced into art in the 16th century by Raphael; the pre-Raphaelites wanted to return to the honesty of medieval art. Just to describe their ideas is to see their problem. They were dusty students of past art, just as ‘academic’ as the Royal Academicians whose slavish devotion to the classics they attacked. Meanwhile, over in Paris, modern art was making them look like, well, Victorians.”Read more.

In The Observer, Laura Cumming admits that Millais could be overly sentimental, but believes he was a thoroughly modern innovator. “Visionary narrative anchored in extreme reality: that is Millais’s particular gift. He was so obsessed with authenticity that he would have period costumes specially tailored and hire actual soldiers and carpenters to pose for their professions. He is a Method Painter; control and premeditation are central to his art. A leaf never rustles unexpectedly, a girl never tears open a love letter, but studies the envelope carefully….This is just as well in the Pre-Raphaelite period where the density of detail could so easily overwhelm the eye. But there is so much more to Millais, as this exhibition shows. His passion for the pivotal moment when things could go either way: he could leave, she could leave, that letter may be fateful. His genius for atmospheric pathos: a smoky chill in the air, a double rainbow against overcast skies, the inklings of twilight in November ponds. It is always autumn in Millais; even the hieratic face of Tennyson seems gathered out of fallen leaves.” Read more.

In an earlier TCOP post,read about the Bancroft Collection, the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite art outside the UK. Recently returned from a five year world tour, it’s on display at the Delaware Art Museum.

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