Facing the Late Victorians

I’m on vacation this week and find myself in Tampa, Florida, looking for something bookish to do. By a stroke of luck, the Henry B. Plant Museum is currently hosting “Facing the Late Victorians: Portraits of Writers and Artists from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection.”

HenryBPlant-exhibit.jpgThe exhibit features portraits of dozens of well-known figures -- in drawings, lithographs, photographs, manuscripts, books, even a bookplate. My favorite was probably an albumen photograph of a brooding Alfred Lord Tennyson (pictured here at left), taken by his neighbor, Julia Margaret Cameron, famous in her own right. The delicate etching of Sarah Bernhardt from 1887 looks as fragile as her figure. A lithograph of a boyish William Butler Years  from 1898 is charming.

Several of the images come from English Portraits: A Series of Lithographed Drawings (1898), a limited edition of 750 copies that proved very successful. John Singer Sargent is there, as is George Bernard Shaw. A drawing of George Gissing, author of New Grub Street (an exceptional Victorian novel about writing and publishing), makes him look positively cowboy-ish.  

legallienne-wrightlegallienne-wright.jpgAnother highlight is the personalized bookplate of Richard Le Gallienne (at right), showing him and his wife surrounded by books and bearing the words, “He loved bookes day/ and night to pore/But yet he loved his wife more.”

I felt one of the pieces poking fun at me, literary tourist that I was. The Home and Early Haunts of Robert Louis Stevenson by Margaret Armour (Edinburgh Riverside Press, 1895) shows a frontispiece of the famous author. The exhibit label calls attention to “literary tourism” as a “full-blown business by the end of the nineteenth century.”

The Lasner exhibit, curated by Margaret D. Stetz of the University of Delaware, is open until June 5; for more information, visit the exhibit’s website. The Henry B. Plant Museum is located in the historic, Moorish-style Tampa Bay Hotel (now Plant Hall, part of the University of Tampa’s campus) and is open year-round. The Museum interprets the life of railroad and hotel magnate Henry B. Plant and resort life in the Gilded Age.

A lovely afternoon all around. If you’re in the Sunshine State, it’s well-worth a visit.

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