Wednesday 28 November 2012

London with the Pre-Raphaelites

I find myself once again in London; this enchanting, confounding, enigmatic chimera of a city which long ago won my heart.  It's a city of multiple exposures: layers of time that can be sensed around every mass of concrete and brick, along every twist of pavement and cobble-stoned street.  Being in London is rather like being in a time machine on the blink; with pieces of yourself deposited in different periods at once.  

This time, a large part of me has been firmly plonked down in the Victorian period.

There is an exhibit currently running at the Tate Britain: "Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde".  Below is the cover of my copy of the catalogue.

It was gorgeous.

The exhibit was mainly made up of paintings, but there were also textiles, tapestries, a stunning knotted rug, books from William Morris' Kelmscott Press including a drool-worthy edition of "The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer,"examples of stained glass, a clavichord, a few samples of furniture, and Morris'  lovely seventeenth century four poster bed with a spread, curtains, and pelmet (similar to a valance hung round the top of the bed) all of which were designed and embroidered by May Morris, William's daughter who had her father's genius for both design and execution of beautiful decorative work.

It is inspiring what the Pre-Raphaelites set out to do and actually accomplished.  Walking through the exhibit, thinking about how they rejected the soul and beauty destroying industrial revolution, it was impossible not to think of our own times, and of the many banksters, Conservative politicians, and their ilk running about on the streets and in buildings and office towers not far away.

As a tonic to such thoughts, I also bought a copy of the Penguin's "Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems" from the gallery shop.  I'm sure I have many of these poems in other anthologies, but it is nice to have them in a book of their own.

Later on my wanderings down Charing Cross Road, known for its second hand book shops, I stumbled upon a delightful shop selling antiquarian books, maps, prints, and documents called "Notions Antiquaria."  It's run by Tracey Brett, daughter of the man who established it in the 1970's.  It's a charming shop that transported me to times past.  I was taken by an Arthur Rackham engraving from an early edition of Peter Pan, which is now tucked away in my suitcase.  It's titled "Looking very undancy indeed."

Tomorrow I head home.  Which I'm always glad about.  It's nice to have some mementoes of London - past and present - going with me.  As well as thoughts inspired by what I saw, and the reminder that - in spite of how it often seems - the power of beauty and wonder are enduring and can shape so much of the world around us.


  1. Fantastic! We're going to see this exhibition next week before going on to my Brother-in-law Jack Wolf's book launch which will be exciting!
    I can't wait to see the paintings up close...
    Love the Arthur Rackham print, that was a good find!
    Have a safe journey home :)

    1. You'll love it Carrie! It was incredible to see the paintings and tapestries up close.
      Have fun at the book launch. The book looks amazing. I'm definitely going to order a copy. I've been reading his Facebook posts - thanks for linking to that -and love all the interesting historical research he's been posting.

  2. Great blog post Lynn. I haven't been to London since I was a kid, and was travelling with my parents. I remember double-decker buses and the fog ... but not much else. Still I know that I'd be enchanted to be there now, much in the way that you have been. Love the Rackham engraving ... love Peter Pan ... and the pre-Raphaelites. Didn't know about the poetry though ... do you have a favorite poem? Would you care to share? I guess it wouldn't be that hard for me to find a copy of that book at our local library. Thanks for sharing the world that shapes you ... inspiring, as always. <3

    1. Double decker buses and fog/smog. Yep. Pretty much the same. My eyes were stinging at the end of each night. So much traffic!

      I love Rossetti's poem "Goblin Market." It's way too long for me to write it here, but I'm sure you could find it in various anthologies, it's one of her more famous ones - and perhaps even online. There are two others which I know as songs: one has become a bit of a Christmas song "In the Bleak Midwinter." And another I know from my days (long, long past) as a singing student: "When I am dead, my dearest."

  3. Perfect description of London! Glad to see you are immersed in delightful things (and will have a few to bring home with you as well)!

    1. It is such a crazy, multi-layered city. With such beauty and ugliness. It's fabulous, but exhausting. I'm glad to be able to peruse the catalogue at leisure now! And I have to find a place to hang the Rackham print.

  4. Oh my gosh! Fancy them having 'The Fairy-feller's Masterstroke' as the cover art for the Rossetti poems! ( And NOT anything PreRaphaelite.) What an inspired choice. I must see this exhibition,though, and I agree with you about London. The flower of cities all...

  5. Yes! It is an interesting choice - which I too think is fabulous. The picture is in the Tate collection, but I didn't see it - only went to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition. I find I get sensory overload at galleries if I try to take too much in. Good for you spotting it in my poor photograph! I didn't have my usual lighting set-up and had to improvise with the otherwise lovely gentle lighting I had in my B&B.
    If you get a chance to see the exhibition it's well worth it. I was surprised by the crowds though. Even on a Tuesday morning, it was teeming with people.

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