LONDON – In April, Tate Britain will present a major exhibition charting the romance and radicalism of the Rossetti generation – Dante Gabriel, his sister Christina and his wife Elizabeth (nee Siddal) – showcasing their revolutionary approach to life, love and art. Moving through and beyond the Pre-Raphaelite years, the exhibition will feature 150 paintings and drawings as well as photography, design, poetry and more. This will be the first retrospective of Dante Gabriel Rossetti at Tate and the largest exhibition of his iconic pictures in two decades. It will also be the first full retrospective of Elizabeth Siddal for 30 years, featuring her surviving watercolors and important drawings. Christina and Dante Gabriel’s poetry will be interwoven with the artworks through spoken word and beautifully illustrated editions of their work. The show, titled The Rossettis, will open on April 6 and continue through September 24.
The Rossettis led a progressive counterculture, blending past and present to reinvent art and life for a fast-changing modern world. The children of an Italian revolutionary exile, they grew up in London in a scholarly family and they began their artistic careers as teenagers. The exhibition will start with a celebration of their young talent, opening with Dante Gabriel’s 1850 work Ecce Ancilla Domine (The Annunciation), the stark and evocative painting for which his sister Christina and brother William Michael posed. This will be shown with an immersive installation of Christina’s poetry, as well as examples of Dante Gabriel’s teenage drawings, reflecting his precocious skill and his enthusiasm for original voices such as William Blake and Edgar Allan Poe.
Works from the Pre-Raphaelite years will demonstrate how the spirit of popular revolution inspired these artists to initiate the first British avant-garde movement, rebelling against the Royal Academy’s dominance of artistic style and content. More personal forms of revolution will be explored through the Rossettis’ refusal to abide by the constraints of Victorian society. Works such as Dante Gabriel’s Found, begun in 1854, Elizabeth Siddal’s Lady Clare from 1857 and Christina’s famous poem The Goblin Market from 1859 will show how they questioned love in an unequal and materialist world.
Following new research, the surviving watercolors of Elizabeth Siddal will also be shown in a two-way dialog with contemporary works by Dante Gabriel, exploring modern love in jewel-like medieval settings. As a working-class artist who was largely self-taught, Siddal’s work was highly original and inventive, but has often been overshadowed by her mythologization as a muse and her tragic early death.
The exhibition will take a fresh look at the fascinating myths surrounding the unconventional relationships between Dante Gabriel, Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris. The poetic portraits from the later part of Dante Gabriel’s career, such as Bocca Baciata of 1859, Beata Beatrix, dating to circa 1864-70 and The Beloved from 1865-73, will be shown in the context of the achievements and experiences of the working women who modeled for them. The exhibition will also explore how the poetic and artistic evolution of the femme fatale informed works such as Lady Lilith from 1866-68 and Mona Vanna of 1866.
Alongside art and poetry, visitors will also be able to experience how the Rossettis’ trailblazing new lifestyles transformed the domestic interior through contemporary furniture, clothing and design. The exhibition will conclude by showing how the Rossettis inspired the next generation, including William Michael’s children, who started the anarchist magazine The Torch, and how they continue to influence radical art and culture to this day.