The Pictorialist exhibition at the Taft Museum of Art plants their flag immediately with its title, Truth/Beauty, echoing a phrase from poet John Keats’ "Ode on a Grecian Urn." On view through Aug. 8, it's drawn from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester and was curated by the Vancouver Art Gallery, where a larger version of this exhibition originally appeared.
Charles and Anna Taft, who lived in the house that became Taft Museum from 1873 until their deaths in 1929 and 1931, had excellent but markedly conservative tastes in art. So they didn’t add photography to what eventually became the Taft Museum’s permanent collection. If they had, however, Pictorialism surely would have been their choice. Its aesthetic aims would mesh with theirs.
Even before the term Pictorialism had been coined, photographers were busy showing the artistry of what the world termed craft. The first gallery of the exhibition is given over to these precursors. Julia Margaret Cameron’s narrative-laden work can carry titles like short stories: “Wist Ye Not That Your Father and I Sought Thee Sorrowing?” is one. Peter Henry Emerson’s “Poling the Marsh Hay” is in the same spirit as then-recent French realistic painting (think Millet) and three extremely early, romantically conceived works by the Scottish photography firm Hill and Adamson are salted paper prints that must be viewed by lifting a curtain as direct light will destroy them.
Read the rest of Jane Durrell's review and get show and Taft Museum details here.