Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Professor Christiana Payne and Dr Dinah Roe co-organised a two-day conference that looked into Pre-Raphaelitism and its past, present and future

Friday, 20 September 2013

Professor Christiana Payne and Dr Dinah Roe co-organised a two-day conference, Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future. Academic sessions took place at the Ashmolean Museum and St John’s College Oxford under the direction of the Ashmolean’s Senior Curator of European Art Colin Harrison and Dr Alastair Wright, Tutorial Fellow, St John’s College. This interdisciplinary conference sought to present new and innovative approaches to the study of Pre-Raphaelitism by bringing together academics, museum curators and research students from both literary and art historical backgrounds. There were thirty-six speakers, both established and emerging scholars, who delivered their papers during parallel sessions. Papers were recorded, with permission, and will be uploaded to the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre website. Keynote speakers were Dr Alison Smith, Head Curator of British Art to 1900 at Tate Britain, and Professor Isobel Armstrong, Emeritus Professor of English at Birkbeck University and Fellow of the British Academy. The conference began with a welcome event for early arrivals on Thursday 12 September at Oxford Brookes University’s Main Lecture Theatre. Dr Brian Hoyle, a Film Studies Lecturer at the University of Dundee, introduced Ken Russell’s 1967 biopic Dante’s Inferno. Situating the film in the context of the director’s work on major literary and artistic figures, he drew attention to Russell’s skilled manipulation of black and white and his innovative use of British landscapes. The screening was followed by a wine reception. The conference proper began on 13 September at the Ashmolean Museum, where the museum’s Director Professor Christopher Brown gave a warm welcome speech highlighting the importance of the future of Pre-Raphaelite scholarship, and of the central role that Oxford has always played in the movement. Following the diverse range of papers, which examined the literary and artistic achievements of Pre-Raphaelitism, Dr Alison Smith delivered her keynote speech at the Ashmolean’s Headley Lecture Theatre. Entitled Curating the Pre-Raphaelites: Past, Present and Future, her talk explored the history of Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions in Britain and around the world, culminating in an illuminating discussion of her experience as Lead Curator of the Tate’s own exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. She considered the political and financial ramifications of mounting a major exhibition, as well as the reactions of audiences from the USA to Russia to the travelling Tate exhibition. A wine reception and special exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite works from the Ashmolean Museum’s Collection brought the first day’s events to a close. Colin Harrison curated the exhibition, which included manuscript poems by Lizzie Siddal alongside paintings and drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Arthur Hughes, among others. The next day began in the St John’s College auditorium with Professor Isobel Armstrong’s plenary lecture, Mirrors, Folds, Mirrors: Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and Poetics.Discussing poetry by Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as Algernon Charles Swinburne and Tennyson, Armstrong made a case for the consideration of Pre-Raphaelitism as a distinct literary category. She drew attention to the use of mirrorsand drapery in works of poetry and art, focusing in particular on John Everett Millais’ ‘Mariana’ and ‘Lorenzo and Isabella’ and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem Rosemary and George Meredith’s Modern Love sequence, among other important works. She concluded by calling for greater study of the Pre-Rapahelite influence on the work of fin-de-siècle writers. The second day of the conference concluded with an evening tour of the Pre-Raphaelite murals at the Oxford Union, given by Librarian-In-Charge, Su Lockley. This was followed by the conference dinner, which also took place at the Oxford Union. On 14 September, Professor Christiana Payne and Colin Harrison led a planned programme of morning walks and talks around Oxford, beginning with a visit to Harris Manchester College Chapel, where delegates were welcomed with a talk from the College Principal Rev. Dr. Ralph Waller. Other sites of Pre-Raphaelite interest visited included the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Jane Burden’s birthplace and Keble College. The programme ended with a visit to the Morris & Co. tapestry ‘Adoration of the Magi’ at the Exeter College Chapel. The conference ran smoothly and was a great success. Delegates and speakers have written to express their delight at the high quality of the papers and lectures, while a publisher has been in touch with Professor Payne and Dr. Roe about an edited volume of essays resulting from new work presented during the conference.