EES Exhibition: Envisioning Egypt
Visit the EES London Office to learn how the artists of the Society for the Preservation of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt (SPMAE) have preserved an imagined past of ancient Egypt, which still inspires a sense of wonder in viewers today.
The Temple of Philae by Frederic Leighton, (Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery).
Artists Edward Poynter and Henry Wallis were the driving force behind the foundation of the Society for the Preservation of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt (SPMAE). By 1888, when the Society was founded, both were well known for their depictions of Egypt in art. They shared an enthusiasm for Egyptian archaeology, and an increasing concern for preserving the monumental remains which inspired their paintings. SPMAE grew to include many other artists, both on its committee and as members.
Israel in Egypt (1867) by Sir Edward Poynter, (Courtesy of the Guildhall Art Gallery, London).
This exhibition, curated by Alix Robinson, presents an introduction to the artists of SPMAE. While successful in their day, some of these artists later fell out of fashion, and have only recently come to be appreciated again. Although they shared a common source of inspiration, their art varies widely in style. Henry Wallis painted a romanticized vision of archaeology, but also highly detailed watercolours of ceramic artefacts. The island and temples of Philae inspired many of the Society’s members, appearing as realistic ruins in the art of Frederic Leighton and Frank Dillon. Edward Poynter and Edwin Long restored these monuments to an imagined ancient splendour in grand Orientalist scenes, while Lawrence Alma-Tadema brought his vision of ancient Egypt to life in dramatic interiors.
The Egyptian Widow (1872) by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum).
SPMAE disbanded in 1910. Circulars, committee minutes, and a small amount of correspondence remain as evidence of its members’ commitment to preserve ancient Egyptian monuments. Perhaps their most enduring achievement is their art that preserves visions of Egypt’s monuments, landscapes and archaeology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and of an imagined past which still inspires a sense of wonder in viewers today.
This exhibition will be on display until July 2023, and there will be an opportunity to meet the curator at an Exhibition Launch on 5th April 2023.