The Tate Britain is the oldest gallery in the Tate network and opened its doors for the first time in 1897 impressively comprised of the personal collection of the founder, Sir Henry Tate. Referred to as the “slightly less sexy sister of the Tate Modern,” I was intrigued to experience the Tate Britain for myself as galleries within the Tate network boast notable collections with an unimaginable amount of effort embedded within the blueprints and composition of the galleries. The arrangement moves in chronological order guiding viewers through the eras of the past from 1500 leading up to modern art. During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, liturgy movements dominated each era being Shakespeare, poetry and novels respectively. The artists produced stunning masterpieces and gave the people exactly what they fancied. During the 19th century, artists became extremely wealthy until the art world came to a halt in 1910 when there was a dramatic shift in the taste of artwork. The modern world no longer wanted these kinds of work, but fortunately the stunning pieces of prior centuries were covered up and hidden in the backs of museums or at private estates to be preserved for future years to come.
My Art History professor skillfully navigated our class throughout the gallery as we paused at iconic pieces to dive deeper into the story below the surface. I love art because there is so much more to a piece than what the viewer initially grasps. People see different things and there is often hidden meanings, messages and lessons embedded into the careful brushstrokes on the canvas.
Augustus Leopold Egg painted a collection of three pieces titled Past and Present No.1, No. 2 and No.3. This proved to be the most fascinating art story I had ever heard and with every twist and turn of the story, the details and clues were extraordinary. Moving through each of the three paintings, the story morphed and became more dynamic as clues connected events of the past while foreshadowing the future. In the first painting of the series, Past and Present No. 1, there are links to Adam and Eve the Fall with the apple and serpent temping the woman and succumbing to temptation. There are two halves of the apple lying in the painting and the woman’s half rolls to the floor rotting away. The open door foreshadows the woman being cast out of the family home, and the two portraits hang on the wall, one of the man and the other the women, are crucial links between each of the three pieces. Past and Present No. 2 shows the two daughters grown up and quite a bit older. The two portraits remain hanging on the wall, but the mirror casts a shadow over that of the man, and the eldest daughter is wearing black in mourning and comforting her sister, hinting their father has passed away. A woman with child who is a homeless prostitute in Past and Present No. 3, shows the mother many years later after she was thrown out of the house in shame. The woman sits near the river and contemplates the past and considers suicide. As she looks out at the river, she has no way of knowing the two daughters she left many years ago are doing the same thing and wondering where their mother is after all these years. Dramatic and engaging stories within paintings such as this series by Augustus Leopold Egg prove to be prime examples of the Victorian era. Paintings held stories of moral warning and people would contemplate the meaning behind these works and consequently take a message home with them- I certainly did.
I immensely enjoyed the Tate Britain and below are a couple other pieces I was instantly drawn to within the gallery. Each of these works demonstrate what the people craved during the Victorian era. These impressive works transport the viewer into another time and allowed them to escape their everyday realities and retreat into a magical time of the past.
This famous painting shows a social event that classes from the bottom to the top alike attended.