Victorian and Edwardian Art, 1840-1920

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery was established in 1905, and it is therefore not surprising that Victorian and Edwardian art is particularly strong in its Fine Art collection, including works by David Roberts, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and Alfred Munnings.

During the 19th and early-20th centuries British painting branched out from the constraints of academic tradition. Artists pursued alternative subject matter and styles to express themes of history, romance and identity. They were also highly aware of other contemporary European art movements, exchanging ideas for the first time through international exhibitions. Greater ease of travel played a key part in shaping Victorian art. Foreign places provided inspiration for detailed and atmospheric oil paintings, published prints and travel accounts. These images allowed the Victorians to project into them their romanticising visions of the past, the 'exotic' and the 'Orient'. Nonetheless, many artists showed a genuine archaeological and ethnographic interest in their subject matter.

The Pre-Raphaelites and their followers sought different 'places' in romantic literature and epic poetry. Ancient and modern legends and myths provided many of their subjects. Yet, their sometimes disturbing imagery anticipates the symbolist movement of the later 19th century. Edwardian artist were equally interested in painting contemporary scenes and landscapes under the influence of French Impressionism. These pictures deliberately avoided an overt narrative, turned their back on history and foreign shores and brought their viewer firmly into a seemingly carefree contemporary world.

image: The Guarded Bower, by Arthur Hughes, oil on canvas [K1493]