I was lucky enough to pop along to the preview of this great show, the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, at the National Portrait Gallery the other night. There’s nothing like going to a gallery after hours; there’s a delicious feeling of naughtiness and privilege as one wanders around. But it’s always best to get there early, as although I always like to think I’m enormously lucky, usually half of London has tickets too. That was definitely the case this time and things got crowded quickly.
This exhibition, like quite a few others at the moment, is seeking to rebalance the account book between men and women – something which I think is a worthy endeavour but always hard to do. It also risks making women look even more inconsequential by accident. Often women’s contributions have been restricted to support services – essential, and something which has allowed men free rein to do the more fun stuff, but definitely not easy to quantify. When women have been allowed a larger slice of the action, it’s not always been acknowledged even at the time, so it’s tricky working out who deserves credit for what now.
With the pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, women were muses, of course, staring out with those strawberry lips and ‘traduce me’ eyes. But they were also artists too, whether through painting, sculpting or embroidering.
Like the pre-Raphaelite men, these women created beautiful things that are lovely to look at. The only thing I didn’t like in the whole exhibition was a bizarre row of photos on poles of the male pre-Raphs – what was the point of that? I thought we were supposed to be getting away from them at last. But otherwise very lovely.