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The Ashmolean reopens with new exhibition: ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours’

Matilda Gettins reports on the Ashmolean's latest exhibit.

The Ashmolean will reopen to the public today with a new temporary exhibition, ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours’ opening tomorrow, the 18th of May.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of young artists founded in 1848 in London, but with strong Oxford ties. They were opposed to the Royal Academy of Art’s promotion of the ideal, which they saw exemplified in the work of Raphael. Instead, they sought inspiration in late medieval and early Renaissance art that came ‘before Raphael’, depicting scenes with maximal realism. Key figures include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. 

The Ashmolean’s exhibition will span across four rooms, depicting Pre-Raphaelite portraits, ‘stunners’, studies and landscapes. Most of the works are part of the Ashmolean’s own permanent collection, largely a result of donations from pre-Raphaelite patron Martha Combe. Planning for the exhibition started in October 2019 already, with the exhibition originally set to open in February 2021. However, with international loans prevented by safety and travel restrictions, being able to draw from own collections has greatly relieved the difficulties of setting up the exhibition. The exhibition’s curator is Professor Emerita of History of Art, Oxford Brookes University Christiana Payne.

Booking is required, with only a limited number of people allowed to enter at any time. Payne recommends booking soon, as much of the first week is already sold out. The exhibition will only be on for five weeks, ending on 20th June. Ticket options include the daytime ticket, which includes entry to the general museum and café as well, or the evening ticket, permitting entry only to Pre-Raphaelite exhibition from 4-8pm on Friday or Saturday evening. 

Booking and tickets are free for Oxford University and Oxford Brookes students, but students are asked to bring their student ID or Bodleian Card as proof of eligibility. Visitors are required to wear a mask, unless they are exempt for medical reasons. 

To help maintain social distancing, drawings and paintings have been hung further apart or beneath each other. There will be no audio guides or public guided tours due to the pandemic.

The exhibition is on the third floor but is accessible by lift. However, the Ashmolean has reduced the occupancy of its lifts, and hence asks those who can to use the stairs. More information on access is available on the Ashmolean website. 

Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82) The Day Dream, 1872–8
Pastel and black chalk on tinted paper, 104.8 × 76.8 cm
Image credit: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

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