Isabella and the Pot of Basil painting comes home to the Laing

One of the finest examples of Pre-Raphaelite art has come back home to Newcastle after being on tour for a year

Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt. Rory Johnson has helped repair the painting’s frame
Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt. Rory Johnson has helped repair the painting’s frame

One of the best-loved ladies at a city’s art gallery has been welcolmed back after a year away.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil, by Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt, has been on tour to Tate Britain in London and to the National Gallery in Washington in the United States.

A giant rendition of the painting has decorated the outside wall of the Laing, facing John Dobson Street, for the last 20 years after it was chosen as one of three to represent works from the gallery.

It will now go on show as part of a new display of 18th and 19th Century paintings.

Julie Milne, chief curator at the Laing Art Gallery, said: “We are lucky to have this wonderful painting in the collection. It’s one of the best loved works here and many people visit the gallery especially to see it.

“The painting will appear in our new display alongside other exceptional paintings by artists including John Martin, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. It really will look spectacular.”

The painting is being given some TLC by the gallery’s team of conservators in advance of the new display, opening on September 19.

Conservation officer Rory Johnson has been carrying out repairs to the back of the painting’s frame.

He said: “The frame was adapted especially for this painting and dates from around 1867, when the painting was completed.”

The painting left Newcastle to be part of the popular exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites - Victorian Avant-Garde” at Tate Britain and Washington’s National Gallery.

William Holman Hunt was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists. The painting is based on verses from John Keats’s 19th Century poem, Isabella, a re-interpretation of a medieval story.

The story goes that Isabella fell in love with Lorenzo, one of her brothers’ employees. When her brothers find out, they murder Lorenzo and bury his body but his ghost informs Isabella in a dream. She exhumes his body and buries the head in a pot of basil which she tends obsessively, while pining away.

The painting was begun in Florence in 1866 while Hunt and his wife were delayed during their journey to the East.

The painting came to the North East after being bought for £1,550 by James Hall of Tynemouth, who was a partner in the shipowning business Palmer, Hall & Co.

Also on show in the new display will be a number of works by Northumberland painter John Martin, renowned for his spectacular paintings of apocalyptic destruction and biblical catastrophe.

In preparation for the new display, the Laing’s 18th and 19th Century gallery will be closed from Saturday until September 18.


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