Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Birmingham: Enchanted Dreams at BMAG
My last trip to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was fantastic- I loved the blogger event they had put on and really enjoyed writing it up. It's also been a very popular post amongst readers. For all these reasons and more, I was excited to be invited back to the second event.
This time we were in the Gas Hall to look around the Enchanted Dreams exhibition. I'd spotted this and had been curious to visit, so I was very lucky to be part of a group being shown round by the curator of fine art.
I'm not an artist and I don't know much about art but I do enjoy it. I think this means I go into these events with an open mind- I'm not fretting about judging the art or asking in-depth questions. I just want to enjoy looking round and maybe even learn something.
Enchanted Dreams is focused on a lesser-known and perhaps overlooked artist, Edward Robert Hughes. His uncle was Pre-Raphaelite artist Arthur Hughes, who introduces E.R. Hughes to artists, authors and other arty folks. Naturally, the young Hughes grew up wanting to be an artist.
The exhibition cleverly leads you through E.R. Hughes' life, starting with his childhood and the people who influenced him such as his uncle. We also find out that he modelled for other painters as a young man, and that he was engaged to be married to a girl who died very early of T.B. Instantly, E.R. Hughes has stopped being some old Victorian artist and is a real person with hopes, dreams, triumphs and tragedies.
When he had finished training as an artist, Hughes made his money and his reputation by doing portraits. Letters from the time suggest he didn't particularly like it- he complained of demanding customers! He became known for his unsentimental portraits of children and his ability to get something of the family life into the paintings. I especially liked one of two girls, Bell and Dorothy Freeman, sat in front of an arts and crafts style window. You could really imagine the lives those girls led.
The exhibition brings together watercolours, pencil sketches and chalk pieces. He was incredibly talented with chalk- the images we saw almost looked like photographs. Hughes had such a talent for bringing his subjects to life.
He also came across as a really nice person.He spent some time working for an elderly artist who had cataracts and couldn't do much of the painting. Hughes does not seem to have tried to take credit for this; he just wanted to help.
In the 1890s, Hughes joined the Watercolour Society. At this point, watercolours were a little unfashionable and the society wanted to prove that they could do big, dramatic, ambitious paintings. When Hughes was accepted, he was required to donate a painting. He gave them Oh What's That in the Hollow which you can see someone looking at in the image below. This has very clear nods to the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood- the outdoor setting, the flowers, the red haired model.
The painting was based on a Rossetti poem 'Amor Mundi' in which two lovers roaming in the woods come across a corpse. Cheerful! This is an unsettling piece of art and it was greeted with mixed reception.
Having wondered through Hughes' life, we found ourselves at the end of his life, but also his best-known works. When he died, his painting Night with her train of stars was offered to a museum in London who SPURNED the chance. Naturally the forward-thinking Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery were happy to take it, and it is the centre piece of the exhibition.
The painting is displayed in a beautiful blue room with Hughes' other well-known 'blue' paintings. They are all 'magical' in some way and put you in mind of fairytales or dreams.
I was particularly taken by Midsummers Eve; apparently one of the most reproduced works of art. I'll be honest, this style wouldn't usually catch my eye. But displayed as it was against the deep blue wall, it was very striking.
Finally, the star of the show. The curator said she wanted people to approach it from a distance and it worked very well. Seeing these best-known paintings after going through Hughes' entire life was a fantastic way to view them. It is a very cleverly put together exhibition and I'm so glad I got to hear from Victoria, the curator. I learnt lots about a very interesting and talented man, who achieved far more than his best-known works.
Enchanted Dreams is on until 21st February 2016 and is £7 per ticket (£6 concessions, free for under 16s.) It would be something lovely to do with children during the holidays- they even have a little 'fairy glen' area.
If you are sans children, I'd highly recommend going along to hear Victoria Osborne, the curator, speak on 2nd December at 1pm- it's included in the day's admission ticket. She will tell the story much better than I can!
Enchanted Dreams, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square
Photos by me and by Edd
I was invited to attend the tour for free by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery but was not required to blog.