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Views of Albion

The Reception of British Art and Design in Central Europe, 1890–1918


Andrzej Szczerski

Views of Albion is the first comprehensive study of the reception of British art and design in Central Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. The author proposes a new map of European Art Nouveau, where direct contacts between peripheral cultures were more significant than the influence of Paris. These new patterns of artistic exchange, often without historic precedence, gave art during this period its unique character and dynamism.
Beginning with an analysis of the concept of Central Europe, the book examines knowledge about British art and design in the region. In subsequent chapters the author looks at the reception of the Pre-Raphaelites in painting and graphic arts as well as analysing diverse responses to the Arts and Crafts Movement in Germany, Austria, Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary and Southern Slavic countries. The epilogue reveals the British interest in Central Europe, echoed in the designs Walter Crane, Charles Robert Ashbee and publications of The Studio.
The book questions the insularity of British culture and offers new insights into art and design of Central Europe at the fin de siècle. It presents the region as a vital part of the international Art Nouveau, but also shows its specific features, visible in the works of artists such as Alfons Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Stanisław Wyspiański.
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CHAPTER 3: The Pre-Raphaelites


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The Pre-Raphaelites

British art of the second half of the nineteenth century was seen in Central European circles as not only belonging to the basic educational canon of every single critic or artist but was also quite well known to broader groups of art recipients. Particularly popular were the “Pre-Raphaelites”, or “Pre-Raphaelitism,” as the movement was then called. The problem with the two terms, however, was that they mostly functioned as labels, associated with particular types of female beauty, sensitivity, emotionalism, Neo-romanticism, or references to medieval and Early Renaissance painting. Only in certain exceptional cases were there any attempts at a deeper analysis of the developments they were used to signify. This was mainly due to a lack of direct knowledge about the works of British artists but also because Central European perception was strongly influenced by French opinions.

There were a number of simultaneous levels of perception with regard to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). First of all, French criticism made the movement look like a branch of contemporary Symbolist art. In this context, the PRB painting was seen as an element of visual culture at the turn of the century which was identified with the tendencies of Art Nouveau. It was actually the Pre-Raphaelites who were thought to be the best representatives of sophisticated aestheticism – “art for art’s sake” – and exoteric eulogists of mannerist beauty. In the period of Symbolism, the art of the Pre-Raphaelites bore all the...

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