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England’s Ashmolean Museum has acquired one of the most important Pre-Raphaelite paintings remaining in private hands. John Everett Millais’ (1829-1896) portrait of John Ruskin, the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, has been on loan to the institution since January 2012. The work was officially given to the museum by the Art Council England under the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance plan, which stipulates that under British tax law debts can be written off in exchange for objects of national significance. The painting recently appeared in Tate Britain’s highly successful exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde.

Millais, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, was commissioned to paint the portrait in 1853 by Ruskin himself. While working on the painting, Milliais fell in love with Ruskin’s wife, which ultimately led to the breakdown of the Ruskins’ marriage, Millais’ friendship with Ruskin, and the artist’s involvement with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. After marrying Ruskin’s wife, Effie, Millais gave the portrait to a friend in Oxford, Henry Wentworth Acland. The portrait remained in Acland’s family until his descendants sold it at Christie’s in 1965, where the late owner of the painting purchased it.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which formed in 1848, was a group of English painters, poets, and critics who rejected the traditional approaches to art and painting established by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael (1483-1520) and Michelangelo (1473-1564). Instead, the Pre-Raphaelites turned to medieval and early Renaissance art for inspiration often painting subjects from Shakespeare and the Bible. Pre-Raphaelitism, which rattled Britain from 1848 to 1900, was considered the country’s first avant-garde movement.

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Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century is now on view at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT and explores the art created in Britain during the reign of King Edward II. The period, which is known as the Edwardian era, lasted from 1901 to 1910.

 Sandwiched between the rigid Victorian era and the devastation of World War I, the Edwardian era was a time of rapid technological growth, significant artistic development, shifting political and social structures, and increased consumption among the elite. Edwardian Opulence explores how all of these changes influenced the creation, consumption, and display of British art through a range of objects.

 Highlights from the exhibition include portraits by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931), diamond-studded tiaras, vivid Autochrome color photographs, bejeweled bell pushes by Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), and an extravagantly embellished gown that belonged to the American-born Vicereine of India.

The show is comprised of 170 works from public art museums and private collections. Lenders include Queen Elizabeth II, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Britain, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Musée d’Orsay. Edwardian Opulence will be on view through June 2, 2013.

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