Co curator of the Gothic Beauty exhibition, Jessica Bridgfoot. Photo Brendan McCarthy

Gothic Beauty curators Tansy Curtin and Jessica Bridgfoot have taken great delight in bringing together the Bendigo Art Gallery’s latest exhibition which features the Victorian’s preoccupation with the macabre and the mysterious.

One of the most fascinating exhibits will be the horse-drawn hearse formally used by Mulqueen Family Funeral Directors.

“The logistics of getting it into the gallery have been interesting,” the women laughed, “but it has worked out just fine.”

Alongside the hearse are historic Pre Raphaelite paintings and objects, mourning jewellery and costumes drawn from public and private collections.

The curators have also drawn on works from the gallery’s historic and contemporary collection.

Gothic Beauty traces early Victorian rituals of mourning and includes some striking examples of the black dresses the Victorians wore.

“The black clothes were a way for women to express their grief, an outward sign of inward sorrow,” Ms Curtin said.

“Although there was another interpretation of the compulsory black dresses in that they were also a way of controlling women.”

The exhibition, curated by and exclusive to Bendigo Art Gallery, includes dark and evocative works by contemporary artists Jane Burton, Bill Henson, Michael Vale and Janet Beckhouse, among others.

For book lovers, the literature of the times is also represented in the exhibition.

On display are 18th and 19th century first edition novels by Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole from the Collection of the State Library of Victoria.

The Victorian notion of love, loss and spirituality drew inspiration from Horace Walpole’s ground-breaking novel The Castle of Otranto.

When first published in 1764, the book sparked a keen interest in dark, psychological narratives and heightened emotional states, mostly among middle and upper-class women escaping dull, sheltered lives.

Open tomorrow.