See Heaven in a wild flower

See Heaven in a wild flower
[A review of Tate Britain’s Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature, until 3 May, by Rachel Campbell-Johnston.]
Art had been suffocated by an overlay of traditions and conventions, straitjacketed by stock academic formulas. A return to nature was Ruskin’s clarion call. “Go to nature in all singleness of heart,” he commanded in his first volume of Modern Painters, “. . . having no other thoughts but to penetrate her meaning . . . rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing.”
The Pre-Raphaelites and their followers did this quite literally. Leaving their stuffy artists’ studios (and the even stuffier compositions that had been concocted on Claudian principles inside them), they headed for the great outdoors, dedicated practitioners of plein-air painting some 20 years before French Impressionism and the era when Manet would paint Monet painting in his open boat. […]
Holman Hunt set off for the Holy Land in the company of Thomas Seddon and Edward Lear; his mission to bring authenticity to biblical depictions. He tramped to a spot “which few travellers visit and none revisit . . . the wretchedest place in the whole world” (the place he believed to be the location of the ancient Sodom, accursed of God) to paint his Scapegoat. Every hair of the sad, cowering creature � it died after the experience of being tethered in a tray of salt for months (animals were harmed in the making of this show) � is counted. Every feature of the mountainous geology is studied with painstaking accuracy.
And yet it was this obsession with geology and consequent realisations that the world was far older than biblical traditions suggested, that led to alternative theories that shook the foundations of faith and eventually led in some quarters to the foundation of a new religion � the religion of art. The birth of Aestheticism was heralded.
Times Online – Entertainment |18 February 2004

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