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From guileless sincerity to calculated soft porn - Victorian Treasures review

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Helen of Troy Frederick Sandys
Detail from Frederick Sandys' Helen of Troy (1867) Credit: NATIONAL MUSEUMS LIVERPOOL 

We revere the Victorians for many things, but their art, generally speaking, isn’t one of them. The energy and confidence that saw Britain’s power and influence at their zenith translated in the visual arts into a mania for illustrative historical detail, sentimental storytelling and overbearing moralising which leave us, at best, ambivalent today.

This show, however, takes a novel approach to this neglected area. Rather than jamming the works of the Pre-Raphaelites and their contemporaries together from floor-to-ceiling, as such art tends to be seen – and that is how the Victorians themselves liked to view it – the 60 works from across Liverpool Museums’ magnificent collections of 19th-century art, are given a more spacious, contemporary hang: on light-coloured walls with plenty of space around them. The paintings, for once, are allowed to breathe as independent works of art, rather than...

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