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The Ashmolean Museum Lends 12 Artworks to the Exhibition Millais at Tate

OXFORD, UK.- While the Ashmolean undergoes a major redevelopment, items from the Museum’s much loved Combe collection of Pre-Raphaelites can be seen in Millais at Tate Britain until 13 January 2008.

John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the first artistic link between Oxford and the Pre-Raphaelites. Loans from the Ashmolean’s collection of Western Art comprise two oil paintings and ten works on paper.

Arriving in Oxford in 1846, Millais met his first patron, the art dealer and framer James Wyatt, who provided him with studio space in the High Street and commissioned portraits of himself and his family. Wyatt’s support gave Oxford an important place in Millais’s early Pre-Raphaelite work. The artist often painted in the open air using the landscape of Oxford, the woodlands of Botley and Shotover, in the backgrounds of his pictures. The stained glass window in Mariana (1850 -1851), based on one in Merton College, provides a further link with Oxford.

Oxford also provided the Pre-Raphaelites with their first major patron Thomas Combe (1796-1872). A senior partner in Oxford University Press from 1851 until his death, Combe was a close friend of Millais, who advised him on the formation of his collection. After Thomas Combe's death, his widow Martha acquired further works by the Pre-Raphaelites, and bequeathed the whole collection to the Ashmolean in 1893.

On display at Tate Britain, visitors can see Millais’s Portrait of Thomas Combe (1850) and The Return of the Dove to the Ark (1850). Millais’s depiction of the scene inside the Ark is painted with an astonishing attention to naturalistic detail against a background which, by Pre –Raphaelite standards, is unusually dark. Another prominent Oxford personality, John Ruskin, who had been an undergraduate at Christ Church and was later to become the University's first Slade Professor, saw the painting at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1851. He had hoped to buy it but it had already been sold to Combe, before the exhibition opened. Drawings in the exhibition include portraits of fellow artists William Holman Hunt and Charles Alliston Collins, as well as a preliminary pen and ink drawing for Mariana.

Millais will also travel to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam from 15 February to 18 May 2008, and two venues in Japan: Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art from 7 June to 17 August 2008, and The Bunkamura Museum of Art, 30 August to 26 October 2008.

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