28 February 2015

Sculpture Victorious: Tate Britain

Considering that this country is crammed full of Victorian treasures, and that many municipal collections are housed within the decorative constructions built from Empire, it seems quite a challenge for Tate Britain whether they can produce unknown or rare pieces to present something new for this exhibition. Can they represent the awe of the height of Victoriana at the time of the Great Exhibition. Clearly yes. This exhibition captures that amazing fascination generations since have had of that time of strange overblown obsessions, industrial marvels and outrageous social conventions.

Our imaginations can run free in that Victorian world, since everything we think up about it has only been outmatched by reality - we are fascinated by their fascinations, the culture of death, the Gothic extravagance, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the moustaches...

The core of Sculpture Victorious is the rediscovery and remaking of the ancient and classical worlds. This borrowed grandeur and mythology perfectly expressed this complex time of unlimited materiality and innovation. The ceramic elephant, almost the size of a real baby elephant, exemplifies the wonderfully useless element of sculpture, the sheer showing off of technique and decoration.

Thomas Longmore and John Hénk Elephant 1889

There is often a dolorous or mournful quality to Victorian sculpture, the idea of the death mask in an age of prolific dying, the frozen, unyielding busts of men of industry. Thomas Wilkinson Wallis' carved plaques include dead birds and beasts like altars to morbidity.

Thomas Wilkinson Wallis 
Partridges and Ivy 1871

The exhibition ends as work moves into the Pre Raphaelite, the more fanciful inspiration of Mediaeval and Biblical themes. There are discoveries here for seekers of sculpture and Victorian culture.You can see how subsequent artists have remade and reimagined this legacy, and how each generation still rediscovers the Victorians.

Sculpture Victorious
Tate Britain
25th February to 25th May 2015


28th February 2015

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