Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery vs Tate Britain

It has occurred to me today, whilst sat reading the review of the Tate Britain’s new exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites – Victorian Avante-Guarde, that it seems that Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) missed out. I visited the BMAG exhibition the other weekend and enjoyed it immensely. The theme, love and death, captured so much of the Pre-Raphaelite way of thinking. It was not an entirely new way of introducing the paintings, but one which was accessible and bought some of the classics into public view. It certainly introduced me to some of the less famous Pre-Raphaelite painters. It also highlighted the way they would paint about abstract concepts, love and death.

While reading the Guardian’s review of the Tate Britain’s exhibition,
it reminded me of a comment I had made to my sister as we walked into the exhibition at BMAG. I said’ “Oh, Ophelia should be in here.” It wasn’t. This is because it is in the Tate Britain’s exhibition.

This begs a question. The paintings at BMAG were borrowed from the Tate, but some of the prime examples are still at the Tate in their exhibition. Are these exhibitions meant to be complimentary to each other, or in competition? Could the Tate have put more into the exhibition at BMAG and then following their exhibition, put the same exhibition on at the Tate? That would have shown co-operation between the London and regional galleries, and exposed these masterpieces to more visitors. BMAG has an amazing collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. To combine that collection with the collection from the Tate would have been a true blockbuster exhibition (as the Guardian is billing it). Imagine, a vast Love & Death theme, with Ophelia, The Lady of Shallot, Beata Beatrix, Regina Cordium, for starters. The whole Avante-Guarde theme could have been explored through the relationships that the artists had with their models as well as their influences from other sources and their influence on their contemporaries.

There may be reasons for how this has played out. It does seem though, that there could have been a little more co-operation.


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