A tale of two exhibitions
(1) Death: a Self-Portrait. This was an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection ("a free destination for the incurably curious") drawn from the private collection of one man, and on the theme of Death. Heavy on the skulls and skeletons, it was justly busy. For me, three pieces stood out, for different reasons.
(i) in 'The Dance of Death' room ("focus on the universal certainty of death, regardless of status in life"), a collection of painted pottery figurines, each depicting Death and a [member of social group/profession], with a little poem in German. They appeared to be collectibles, the early-mid C19 equivalent of the little pottery cottages sold at the back of Radio Times, with the skeletal death having a penchant for appropriately-themed silly hats. Quite a lot of the exhibition was really rather funny, a good portion of that intentional.
(ii) the same room, a giant skull produced by an Argentinian artists' collective, and constructed entirely of plasticine. I'm not entirely sure how Hansel and Gretel are oppressing the rightful Argentine ownership of the Falkland Islands, but at 6' high it's a stunning object, far more 3D than the photograph conveys.
(iii) in 'Violent Death', a series of prints by Otto Dix. I hadn't heard of Dix before; he was a German artist who produced the prints in 1924, drawing on his experience of WWI. Though far from the most grisly pieces in the exhibition, they were, for me, probably the most disturbing. They share the room with two other "horrors of war" print series, one by Goya, one depicting the Thirty Years' War**, and depict the dead, the dying, and the corrupted and horrible landscape of the trenches. They are just awful to look at.
(2) Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. After a diversion to see John Martin's Last Judgment triptych, my mother and I went to see this exhibtion at the Tate, being unreconstructed enjoyers of the Pre-Raphs. It was fabulous, eight rooms, stuffed full of the famous paintings, the less famous ones that set them in context, and other people's famous paintings also setting them in context, and finally seeing the real thing I at last got the point of the Scapegoat***. They had everything, having apparently stripped the walls of the UK's provincial art galleries****, not to mention private collections: Rossetti's Annunciation, and Girlhood of Mary Virgin (AKA "the one in which she looks like a sourpuss"), and later "stunners". The bed I saw in the spring at Morris's house at Kelmscott. A goodly collection of Burne-Jones, including King Cophetua and some terrific tapestries. Extraordinary examples of art and craft, though I am sorry to say that Lizzie Siddell couldn't draw.
*Not the least pleasing aspect of which was that I was not completely wiped-out on Sunday.
**Another period of history I know almost nothing about except that it was very nasty.
***Apparently Holman Hunt not only went to the Dead Sea, but used a real dying goat.
****Mum and I did a lot of "we've seen that one in Birmingham".