The Legend of King Arthur: A Pre-Raphaelite Love Story explores the legend of King Arthur within the Victorian imagination, presenting national myths and legends through the eyes of Pre-Raphaelite artists.
King Arthur is a central figure in English folklore, a fictional 5th century ruler who led his famous knights in various battles and quests. The Arthurian stories are told through numerous works by various authors from the 9th century onwards. The telling and retelling of the legend culminated in the English author Thomas Malory writing down the stories in a single work in 1485, Le Morte d’Arthur.
The Arthurian legends fell out of interest at the end of the Middle Ages but were rediscovered in the early 19th Century, initially by poets such as Walter Scott and Alfred Tennyson. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones read these poems obsessively whilst at Oxford University and drew from them - and the myths that inspired them - for artistic projects throughout their careers.
This exhibition tells the Arthurian stories as presented by Malory, through the work of Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Arthur Hughes, John William Waterhouse and William Morris alongside lesser known female Pre-Raphaelite artists Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale and Elizabeth Siddal. The show will introduce audiences to the Arthurian legend within the context of reawakened interest in medievalism in Victorian England.
Curated by Natalie Rigby, Collections Manager at Falmouth Art Gallery, this is the exhibition’s first stop on a nationwide tour of locations associated with King Arthur. Following its debut at the William Morris Gallery, the exhibition will tour to Tullie House, Carlisle in February 2023 before finishing its run at Falmouth Art Gallery in Cornwall in June 2023. This exhibition was made possible with Art Fund support and is also kindly supported by Visit Cornwall, Visit England and Cornwall Museums Partnership.
To coincide with the exhibition, the William Morris Gallery has commissioned London-based contemporary artist Joy Gregory to create an installation exploring international myths and legends. Gregory will work with a local ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) group to gather stories from around the world that she will use as a starting point to create an embroidered textile work exploring the place of storytelling within cultural memory.
Image: The Arming and Departure of the Knights Tapestry, Morris & Co., (1891-4)