London – Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434) was one of the beacons by which the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood took its stylistic bearings in forging a radical new style of painting. Acquired by the National Gallery in 1842, the painting informed the Pre-Raphaelites’ belief in empirical observation, their ideas about draughtsmanship, colour and technique, and the ways in which objects in a picture could carry symbolic meaning.
The exhibition will bring together for the first time the ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ with paintings from the Tate collection and loans from other museums, to explore the ways in which Rossetti, Millais, and Holman Hunt, among others, were influenced by the painting in their work.
The exhibition will examine early responses to the technique and style of the painting, from the first press notices to the writings of the painter and National Gallery Director, Charles Eastlake, and draws attention to the different ways in which the Pre-Raphaelite artists responded to the ‘Arnolfini Portrait’. Their appropriation of the convex mirror device in van Eyck’s painting enabled them to envisage new ways of representing real and illusory space.
Focussing on how painters self-consciously referenced the portrait in exploring the psychological state of mind, the exhibition will shed light on Holman Hunt’s on-going fascination with Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Lady of Shalott’. Other works will highlight the ‘Arnolfini Portrait’s’ influence on depictions of domestic scenes, and how the realism of van Eyck had a bearing on the appreciation of Velazquez from the 1860s, encouraging a more painterly approach to realism.
Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites’, brings a new perspective on the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, providing a wider understanding of how van Eyck’s exceptional painting inspired the Pre-Raphaelites and their late Victorian successors.
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