Pre-Raphaelite women top UK art poll

Public art initiative, Art Everywhere's poll has been topped by two Pre-Raphaelite works by Millais and Waterhouse
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The Lady of Shalott (1880) by John William Waterhouse
The Lady of Shalott (1880) by John William Waterhouse

To place one doomed, river-borne, Pre-Raphaelite woman at the top of a British art poll might seem unusual, but to have a second, in second place, surely says something telling about national tastes? Art Everywhere, the philanthropic initiative to display great works of British art on thousands of outdoor advertising sites across the UK for two weeks from today, polled Facebook users to determine their favourite works of British art. 30,000 'likes' were submitted, to draw up a short list of 57 pieces to be featured in the project, from a long list of 100.

Ophelia (1851 – 52) by John Everett Millais
Ophelia (1851 – 52) by John Everett Millais

Art Everywhere has listed its ten most popular choices. In first place is John William Waterhouse's portrait of the doomed maiden described in Tennyson's popular poem, The Lady of Shalott (1880). Meanwhile, John Everett Millais' Ophelia (1851 – 52), The Tate's most popular postcard, is the second most popular choice, despite its remarkably similar subject – a dying, lovesick woman of literary renown, adrift in a stream.

 

Gassed (1919) by John Singer Sargent
Gassed (1919) by John Singer Sargent

The rest of the list shows greater variation, with Francis Bacon's Head IV (1949) in third place, John Singer Sargent's portrayal of early chemical warfare, Gassed (1919), in fourth; JMW Turner's ever-popular The Fighting Temeraire, (1839) in sixth place; LS Lowry's sparse depiction of northern, industrial life, Going to the Match (1953) in eighth; and James Whistler's impressionistic Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (1872 -5) in ninth position.

 

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (1872 -5) by James Whistler
Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (1872 -5) by James Whistler

If anything, two markedly similar works in the top two positions is proof the list is a true summation - any behind-the-scenes panel would have ensured no such obvious duplication would take place. Perhaps also, the high placing for Millais and Waterhouse prove just how the allure of truth, beauty, myth and romanticism still resonates with art lovers in Britain, 150 years after the Pre-Raphaelites' paints dried.

We certainly look forward to seeing these works and many others, on the 22,000 poster sites, 2000 London bus hoardings, 1000 black cab displays over the next couple of weeks. For more on this initiative go here. For a greater understanding of Waterhouse, please take a look at J W Waterhouse, our timely appraisal; for more on Millais you need John Everett Millais by Jason Rosenfeld; for Francis Bacon, take a look at our Phaidon Focus volume; for Sargent, please consider our book, The Age of Elegance; for Turner, take a look at our career overview; you can find out more about LS Lowry in our classic monograph; and about Whistler in our sumptuous Colour Library edition. All of which should make you both well-informed and the envy of your art-loving circle of friends. 


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