Manchester Art Gallery

The Bower Meadow

Object description

Romantic and imaginative composition, set within a park landscape, with two half-length female figures seated in the foreground playing musical instruments as two women behind them dance to their music. The left foreground figure – modelled for by Marie Spartali Stillman – is seated in three-quarter view to the right with her head turned in profile; she wears a loose, deep pink-coloured medieval-style garment with a fine, almost transparent white fabric twisted around the neck; her dark hair is twisted and coiled at the back of her head with a pearl spiral hair ornament fastened behind the ear. The positioning of the right foreground figure – modelled for by Alexa Wilding - echoes that of the left figure, appearing symmetrically balanced; her head is in three-quarter view to the left with auburn hair partially gathered at the back of her head, the rest trailing down her back; she wears a loose green robe similar to that of the left figure, with a stylized autumn leaf on the shoulder. Both figures appear dreamy and self-absorbed, playing their zither (left) and psalter (right). Seen between the heads of the foreground figures with a stone balustrade behind them are the pair of barefoot dancing figures. They have an arm wrapped around each other's waist, their other hands clasped and held up in the air. The head of the left figure faces the viewer. She wears a green dress with patterned red sleeves, her red hair trailing behind her; the right figure, wearing a pink dress over a loose-sleeved undergarment, has her head turned away from the viewer, her dark hair plaited and coiled around the back of her head. To the right of the dancing figures is a dove cote with a red tiled roof. A spray of pink roses can be seen in the front right corner. In the background is a landscape of rolling pasture, through which a fifth female figure walks carrying a basket over her shoulder. The pasture is bordered by dense woodland. The frame is probably original to the painting. Its top edge has a simple leaf moulding, followed by acanthus moulding and bead and reed moulding; the frieze has a leaf and floral pierced pattern on the gesso and gilded surface, and the sight edge has a bluebell moulding.

Display label

Gallery text panel The Pre-Raphaelites in their Time Britain's first and best-known radical art movement emerged from within the Royal Academy in 1848. Its original members were rebellious art students who were disillusioned with contemporary practice. They looked back to Italian art before Raphael, seeing the pre-1500 period as one of great sincerity. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In an age of rapid industrial and urban expansion, Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, and pioneering design reformers such as William Morris, sought a return to pre-industrial values of art and design in truth to nature and materials, and good workmanship. In addition, the arts of the Middle Ages and Middle East were important sources of stylistic inspiration. The Bible, literature and contemporary life were preferred over subjects derived from classical mythology. The Brotherhood also rejected contrived studio lighting and took canvases outside to paint directly from nature. Although attempting to convey exactly what they saw, they created a heightened reality of dream-like intensity with minute details and bright, dazzling colours. Their art was a new kind of history painting for a new age.