Robert Brough, ‘Fantaisie en Folie’ 1897
Robert Brough
Fantaisie en Folie 1897

This display brings together portraits that were stars of the Tate collection in the early twentieth century. Many were reproduced in books or as postcards. Diana of the Uplands, Charles Wellington Furse’s portrait of his wife Katharine, for example, once rivalled Millais’s Ophelia in popularity.

The artists featured here did not belong to any movement, but their works illuminate Edwardian taste and the Tate Gallery’s history. Most trained in Paris, then the hub of the international art scene, and were influenced by Whistler and Sargent. All valued technical mastery above everything. By the end of the nineteenth century, the public had come to appreciate the ‘master’s touch’ as evidence of individuality, virtuosity, and the ability to combine technical advances with the clarity of academy painting. They were considered by their contemporaries to be resolutely up-to-date.

With the rise of modernism and the upheaval of the First World War, these works fell out of fashion, their naturalistic style dismissed as conservative and dated. Some have not been on display for decades, but it is hoped they will regain their popularity in a broader history of art.

Read the accompanying curatorial essay for this display.