Russell Coates is a cabinet of curiosities, a gem clinging to the clifftop in the formerly grand seaside town of Bournemouth. It was built and habited by Sir Merton and Lady Annie Russell Coates at a time when Bournemouth was fashionable and stylish – the end of the 19th Century.
That era has now sadly passed well away for the town. Nevertheless, the Russell Coates Gallery gives the visitor a taste of the town’s grander times with its delightful excesses of Victoriana décor, furnishings, stunningly tiled walls and floors and sumptuously painted ceilings. It is almost like stepping back in time, so have the museum’s owners and curators kept faithfully to the past whilst accommodating thousands of visitors to what must now be the town’s only site of worthy visit.
From an art historian’s point of view, the paintings and sculpture on show truly reflect the culture and taste of our Victorian and early 20th century forefathers. You could almost say that here you have in miniature form, a complete story of this period’s English art.
Charles Lundelle’s saucy ‘Sirene’ a beautiful female rising from the depths to trap the unwary sailors. Striking in its nudity, nevertheless acceptable at the time because of its capturing of a myth and its absolutely fine finish. Thus ‘fine art’ to be unashamedly gazed upon as with Edwin Longsden Long’s ‘The Chosen Five’ that epitomises the lust of the male and the purely decorative of the female body as being fine, it’s after all ‘mythological fine art’. And even to more modern times with Thomas Rowlandson’s naked ‘The Bather’ beautifully painted in her innocence, again to be gazed upon, but what of your perspective?
Single out some of the female artists on display here Dorothea Sharp and Sophie Anderson for instance. Notice how their subject matter is by and large so different from their male colleagues. We don’t have nudity, mythological heroism, or huge dramas instead we have the warmth and comfort of simple relationships, of gentle landscape scenes perhaps of images we can today more comfortably identify with.
Reflect too upon all the sculptures. Pure marble white, nubile forms within every frame of your view, busts of the famous and royal and perhaps not so well known.
A veritable feast for the sensuous eye and from the viewing eye of a former age, but so very different from ours?
The Primacy of Your Eye will guide you through such galleries to enrich your experience of all that you see.