While the Christie’s New York auction of Liz Taylor’s jewellery grabbed all of last week’s headlines, I was more interested in some of the Pre-Raphaelite gems on show at the Christie’s London auction of ‘Victorian and British Impressionist Art’. One artist who inspired some furious competition was Northamptonshire’s own Frank Cadogan Cowper. Estimated at £150,000 - £250,000, his Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth (1917, above) went for £469,250, a record-breaking price for Cowper’s work. In a complex, efficient choreography, assistants ferried most of the paintings in and out for display. But throughout the auction, Cowper’s work remained on the wall above a phalanx of smartly attired men and women taking phone bids. The painting was beautifully lit, showing off its bright colours and ornate frame to full advantage.
Perhaps it was to this work that Peter Brown (Director in Victorian Pictures) was referring when he breezily told me that some items had done ‘better than expected.’ British understatement at its finest, I suspect.
Cowper is sometimes referred to as the 'Last Pre-Raphaelite'. The painter is clearly borrowing from a Pre-Raphaelite colour palette, but what other Pre-Raphaelite influences are detectable?
I first came to visit Birmingham to celebrate the beginning of my postgraduate studies in 1998. I walked around the city all day, backpack slung over my shoulders, revelling in the city's startling combination of old and new. I had come up from London to see the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I remember buying a small exhibition poster and putting it up in the tiny bedroom at my halls of residence, and wondering when I would return.
This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.