Pre-Raphaelite Exhibit in America

ang2light -world


chris-storyteller-iiI just discovered that my hero, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, put together a art show in the United States. Here is an exert from ‘The Daring Young Men’ by David Howard Dickason (1957)

‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt, was a huge success. I associate this painting with the ideal Hippie Jesus, and do not care who is offended. There were many Christ-like souls like this, young men who looked within, and brought forth a certain light.

Ruskin did not care for ‘Fair Rosamond’ by Arthur Hughes, he suggesting it was better it stayed in Britain. It reminds me my sister’s work.

Above is one of the few paintings that I did that survived. It is of my Angel coming from the sea carrying a glass float that looks like the earth. She is offering me a second life. Shortly after being reborn I chose the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as my spiritual compatriots. My struggle to reborn their movement is epic. I was opposed all the way! Only Christine Rosamond Presco saw the light, and picked up a brush! Brother and Sister Artists against the Dark World!

Jon Presco

EARLY IN 1857, shortly after Stillman had withdrawn from
the Crayon, a young, retired British army officer, Cap-
tain Augustus A. Ruxton, arranged the first formal loan-exhi-
bition of English art in the United States. He had, as W. M.
Rossetti recalled, "no particular technical knowledge of art
matters/' but he was an energetic amateur and had in this
case also the hope of profiting from his endeavors. He imme-
diately wrote to William Michael Rossetti as an outstanding
art authority, and engaged him as secretary for the whole
venture. Together they began in London the collection of a
considerable loan-exhibit, and in the process necessarily had
contact with a number of art dealers. Among such profes-
sional connoisseurs Gambart was one of the best known and
most enterprising; and he, by coincidence, had been prepar-
ing a parallel exhibit of his own for showing in the United
States. Thus they decided to join forces, and Gambart became
co-partner with Captain Ruxton in the whole project.

Rossetti meanwhile had written to Ruskin asking for as-
sistance and a little publicity, but was rebuffed. "You must
have thought me very hard/* replied Ruskin (sidestepping
the main question), "not to help you with the American
Exhibition; but I have no knowledge of America, and do
not choose to write one word about things which I know
nothing of." 1

With W. M. Rossetti acting largely as a one-man jury
to select pictures for the transatlantic public, there naturally
was evident, as he admitted, "a certain bias towards Pre-
RaphaelitisnT with an almost total exclusion of eighteenth-
century canvases. Since they wished to make an impressive
showing six galleries were ultimately filled, each room "well
covered, the pictures all being closely jammed together/'
the captain later reported a number of non-Pre-Raphaelite
works were necessarily included.

Rossetti had introduced Captain Ruxton to Madox Brown.
The suggestion was made that Brown should also go to
America as "art-superintendent of the Exhibition"; and al-
though Brown was on the point of acquiescing, he finally
refused. Hence Ruxton alone shepherded the show to New
York, where he was gratified by what appeared to be official
recognition of the cultural value of his project. "I am happy
to say," he wrote back to Rossetti on September 29, "I have
not miscalculated the feeling towards the English Exhibi-
tion. The Commissioner of the Customs has not only given
authority to pass the frames as well as the pictures free of
duty, but allows them to be handed over to my agent from
the ship without examination." 2

They had concocted the elaborate scheme of splitting the
exhibit into two sections to show concurrently in Philadelphia
and New York, and then in due course, of shifting the ma-
terials. But the hard times of 1857 were at hand "the sud-
den panic in the money market," as Ruxton ruefully explain-
ed to his English correspondent. "We could not have under-
taken our enterprise at a more unfortunate, I may say,
disastrous time. . . . The wisest heads are affrighted at the
state of commercial affairs in the country. Every day brings
some startling crash, and literally, money is not to be had.
It may appear absurd, but I could not get a sovereign


changed yesterday." So instead of the four sources of return
which the original plan of the double showings would have
provided, the sponsors had to be content with a single New
York exhibit. Chances of sales were also reduced by Ruxton's
inability to obtain conveniently located exhibition rooms.

The captain's spirits were lightened somewhat, however,
by the interest and encouragement of President Durand of
the American Academy of Design, and the assistance of
Stillman, now ex-editor of the Crayon. Durand, Jr., as sole
editor of that journal, was disappointed in an informal pre-
view that none of Dante Gabriel Rossettf s drawings were
included, and urged Ruxton to ask that some be sent im-
mediately. "Your brother will not be displeased to hear that
great interest is felt here in his works," wrote Ruxton to
William Michael. 3 Something by Millais, too, was urgently

The untrained reactions of Ruxton's employees also boded
well. "P.R.B.ism," he reported before the show opened,
"takes with the working men they look, and they look, and
they look, and then say something that the author of the
pictures would be delighted to hear/' Arthur Hughes's "The
Sailor Boy," "Innocence," and "April Love," Madox Brown's
"King Lear " and Hunt's "The Light of the World," 4 Ruxton
added, "are immensely popular among my hangers" The last
work in particular had a wide and obvious appeal. "Please
report to [Hunt] that a man said, 'Never mind the gas, that
picture will light us up/ " 5

Affairs seemed to progress well in spite of the hard times,
and on October 20 Captain Ruxton drafted his report to

I have to announce a most successful opening of the Exhibition
at the private view last night. A]! the leading people of the city
were present indeed the rooms were crammed, and the most cor-


dial and kindly feeling was manifested. . . . "The Light of the
World" creates a great sensation; but Madox Brown's "King
Lear" seems to be the most popular picture of the Exhibition. 6

Stillman three weeks thereafter sent a note of encourage-
mentand criticism to his old Crayon contributor, W. M.
Rossetti. In spite of "the straitness of the time, the Exhibi-
tion holds its own and grows into wider favor every day."
Not a little of this success, Stillman suggests, lies in the cap-
tivating charm of the worthy British captain, "whose man-
agement has been most admirable, and whose excellent
address and personal influence have won him friends and
favor with all classes and parties. . . . The artists unite with
him, and the Club welcomes him, and the ladies especially
become workers for the success of the gallery. . . ." 7

But, added Stillman, who no longer enjoyed the editorial
columns of the Crayon as a vehicle for his critiques, it
would not do to talk down to the American public. The
show, in effect, was badly padded with poor stuff, and the
sponsors should be made to realize this. "The Committee
seem to have thought that things which were second-rate
at home were fit to represent English art here, while our
amateurs are in the main as well acquainted with English
art as the English public itself. . . . There are many pictures
which the public feel were sent here in presumption of
ignorance or bad taste on our part, and we are a sensitive
people on such points/'

Even the P.R.B. contributions "should have been culled
more carefully." In view of the fact that certain "eccentrici-
ties" of the school were new to the American public, Stillman
singled out Hughes's "Fair Rosamond" and Miss SiddaFs
"Clerk Saunders" as items that should have been omitted.
Further, too much general attention was given to pictures
of historic incident and episode of comparatively little in-


terest, whereas there was a dearth of good landscape which
the public would have enjoyed more. Nevertheless, "the
Pre-Raphaelite pictures have saved the Exhibition so far as
oil pictures are concerned." Because of "something vital and
earnest" in them "the P.R.B. pictures have . . . attracted
more admirers than all the others . . . and at the same time
have been more fully appreciated than they are at this day
in England." 8

By implication, however, sales were not too encouraging,
for Stillman pointed out, perhaps to cushion Rossetti' s dis-
appointment, that American picture-buyers rarely purchased
from exhibitions, but preferred to buy pictures not previous-
ly shown. He hoped, however, that specific commissions
would be forthcoming.

The exhibit continued in place for some months. In July
1858, almost a full year later, Charles Eliot Norton received
a letter from Dante Gabriel Rossetti in answer to such a
commission given him by the American. With apologies for
his tardiness in filling it, Rossetti described his drawing
called "Before the Battle" these "chivalric Froissartian
themes are quite a passion of mine," he explained. In this
he pictured a "castle-full of ladies who have been embroider-
ing banners which are now being fastened to the spears by
the Lady of the castle"; and uncertain as to its acceptability,
Rossetti asked Norton to corroborate his selection. "Worst
of all, to be thoroughly sordid," might he also beg "by re-
turn post if possible, the amount of the commission (50
guineas if I am not mistaken)"? This importunate "hoofc
for the money" he apologizes for by the fact that his "Oxford
labours of love" have left him "a little aground." After
further news on the progress of the Oxford Union murals,
his own work on the Llandaff triptych, and his Early Italian
Poets then in press, he concludes:


My brother has been largely occupied with duties in your neigh-
bourhood, and I suppose the English Exhibition may be consid-
ered un fait accompli. … I am afraid, from your not telling me,
that no one much liked "Clerk Saunders." All I can say is, if they
don't, they're wrong. 9

In this 1857 Exhibition, then, the American public had
their first major opportunity to view and evaluate contem-
porary British art; and in the main, they found the Pre-
Raphaelite paintings good. 10


The American Brotherhood:

"The Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art 93

JESS THAN eighteen months after the demise of the Crayon,
JLj further action of a Pre-Raphaelite nature ensued. On
the evening of January 27, 1863, at 32 Waverly Place in
New York City a group of "daring" young men met to
diagnose the condition of the arts in mid-century America.
Believing in the "overwhelming power of Truth, especially
in Art, they had for some time seen the necessity of a
united effort to revive true art in America, and had assembled
at this time . . , to organize an Association for the better pro-
motion of the end just stated.'* * Several other meetings were
held, with sharp altercation over platform principles; but
finally, on February 18, the Articles of Organization were re-
ported complete, unanimously adopted, and signed by all
the persons present In such an American manner, a decade
after the climax of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's activ-
ity in England, was born the litde-known counterpart of
that group in this country.*

The lineage of this society may be traced to two definite
sources, one British, one American. In 1860 a young English-
man, Thomas Charles Farrer, who had studied art under
Ruskin and had become his ardent supporter, moved to New

* See Chapter VIII for details concerning the charter members : T. C. Farrer,
Clarence Cook, Clarence King, Peter B. Wight, Russell Sturgis, Charles Her-
bert Moore, and Eugene Schuyler.


About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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