However, in two rooms the paintings are presented in the way the Victorian art galleries used to be, with as many paintings as possible hung on the wall. It makes these two rooms very interesting, apart from the fact that you can see some very nice art there.
Personally, I’ve never seen something like this in any of the many museums that I visited in the past. Modern day art galleries are neat, with one line of paintings on each wall. Perhaps, when you put so many paintings above each other, the presentation may appear too busy and confusing, but that’s how it used to be.
These two rooms contain art from private collections bequeathed to the museum – the Sheepshanks collection and the Ionides collection.
THE SHEEPSHANKS COLLECTION
John Sheepshanks collected contemporary art. In 1837, he gave 233 paintings and 289 drawings, to found a “National Gallery of British Art”.
Half the paintings in the gallery come from his collection. Most are British, but there are a few continental paintings.
Sheepshanks and other serious collectors bought from the annual exhibitions at the Royal Academy. There, they packed the paintings closely to accommodate as many as possible.
Similarly, the paintings in the museum give an impression of a 19th century exhibition.
PAINTINGS IN THE SHEEPSHANKS COLLECTION
Eastlake lived in Rome from 1816 to 1830. The reverse of the painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1831, bears his inscription: “Nina Ranieri, a young peasant woman of the Roman State, while kneeling before a chapel of the Madonna was bit by a viper: she sank into a lethargy in a short time and died two days after”.
The tarantella is a folk dance characterised by light, quick hops and turns. Uwins lived in Italy from 1842 to 1831 and specialised in peasant scenes.
His niece was the model for the child and the Gulf of Salerno is in the background.
One critic found the painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842, “highly successful in character”, but another remarked on its stale subject matter.
Some critics interpreted the subject as a young woman silencing her companion’s flute to listen to the caged bird. Others saw it as the bird out-performing the musician.
The figures wearing 17th-century costumes are in the dining room of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, which Horsley first visited in 1835.
In the next painting, the artist masterfully caught the expression of the boy holding the apple. He is anxious, he doesn’t want the bigger boy to take more than his fair share.
The pet monkey echoes his nervousness and it’s afraid that the dog will take the bite out of him.
This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836.
Cope often painted domestic scenes. Although nursing was seldom portrayed in 19th-century art, the critics admired his work.
Below painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1846.
Stone breakers shattered rocks for the new roads that transformed travel during the early 19th century.
The painting, exhibited at the British Institution in 1830, contrasts the worn-out labourer with the fresh-faced girl. It’s the earliest of several depictions of this badly paid and backbreaking work.
A boy gazes wistfully at a group of children playing with a toy boat, as he is hurried along by his mother or nurse.
Next is a scene from Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote. Don Quixote gave the aristocratic name “Dulcinea del Toboso” to a pretty peasant woman. The eccentric Don believed that he was her protector and that she was a “great lady or Princess”.
This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839.
The painting below was probably also called The Necklace. The model was a beauty of mixed Irish and Spanish descent. She had “raven black hair and arched eyebrows”.
Leslie was brought in the United States, but worked in London. He was a friend and biographer of the landscape painter John Constable.
The subject is taken from an old nursery saying: “Open your mouth, shut your eyes, and see what Providence will send you”.
But Mulready has changed the context from childhood to adolescence.
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839.
The painting below, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837, was originally called Pinch of the Ear.
It shows Mulready’s favourite subject: the neck and shoulders of a young woman. However, he later changed the title of the painting.
Mulready’s painting below, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839, was one of his most popular works.
THE IONIDES COLLECTION
Constantine Ionides belonged to a wealthy merchant family. He made a fortune on the Stock Exchange.
Ionides assembled a fine art collection that included around 90 paintings. His collection included portraits by Botticelli and Tintoretto, also Pre-Raphaelite works by Rossetti.
He was also an important collector of French 19th-century painters, such as Degas, Delacroix and Millet.
The Ionides collection provides a unique insight into progressive artistic taste in Victorian Britain. Paintings are double hung, the same as in his home, together with furniture and sculpture that belonged to him.
PAINTINGS IN THE IONIDES COLLECTION
The painting below is a smaller version of a picture painted at the family home in Tulse Hill, south-west London.
It depicts the Ionides family. The two eldest boys are wearing Greek national dress. Constantine, the youngest boy, later became the benefactor of the museum.
Le Nain brothers shared a studio in Paris from about 1630. They specialised in scenes of the poor, depicting them with dignity unusual for the period.
Although initially criticised for “their low and often ridiculous actions”, by the 1850s the public admired their paintings for their realism.
A woman spins yarn with a distaff, a man holds a flask and a boy is playing a flageolet, against the lime kiln.
This is a sketch for a painting that is in the Louvre, the subject is from Byron’s poem Don Juan.
The ship-wrecked hero and his companions draw lots in silent horror, to decide who should die to be his fellows’ food.
Courbet spent the late summer of 1869 at Etratat, a village on the Normandy coast popular with painters.
Critics praised this powerful seascape for its portrayal of the “grand impressiveness of nature”. It was exhibited at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in 1882.
Ingres excelled in depicting the female nude. One of his favourite subjects was an odalisque – a female slave or concubine, in an Eastern harem.
The French painter Fantin-Latour made several visits to England. His studies of flowers were particularly popular with British collectors.
This informal arrangement of flowers set against a natural backdrop is characteristic of the many floral paintings in his career.
Ionides, a collector of French art, bought the painting directly from the artist.
I hope that this post will give you a taste of the painting collection in the Victoria and Albert museum. Of course, to see everything properly, you have to visit the museum.
Also, the arrangement of paintings in these two rooms makes the whole experience unique. As I said, I’ve never seen paintings double or triple hung in any museum that I visited in the past. And I’ve been to many.
It felt like visiting an old Victorian art gallery, in addition to seeing some very beautiful paintings.