I'm enjoying Jeremy Paxman's series about the Victorians on the BBC. I have a bit of a soft spot for Paxman, but his style doesn't quite work here. He is fine when he is talking to camera or narrating, but his meetings with ordinary people are a bit strained. I don't get the impression he gets out much.
But the notion of looking at Victorian society through painting is a good one. Some of the art is execrable of course - and only interesting because of what it tells us about that world. But let's face it - much of contemporary art is execrable too, and tells us nothing except how much some people are willing to pay for so little.
My main art teacher at school was the infuriatingly moody Joe Taylor, who nonetheless was also funny and clever and passionate about art. He had a particular passion for the Pre-Raphaelites and I remember being very excited about the fantastic collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings at the Manchester City Art Gallery. That was, until art college had taught me to be embarrassed by it.
Follow the link to the Pre-Raphaelite collection and take a look. It has Holman Hunt's Light of the World which used to grace the walls of many a Victorian nursery - and presumabley gave the creeps to many a Victorian child!
But Manchester is a Victorian city, full of Victorian treasures. Every Christmas, boards would be taken down at the art school in All Saints to reveal a magnificent Edward Burne-Jones tapestry (made by Morris & Co) of the Adoration of the Magi. It was hidden, I was told at the time, because it was too expensive to insure all year round. I don't know whether that was true - but it certainly added to the magic that it was hidden for most of the year.