Pre-Raphaelites Invading London

Tate Britain will pay homage to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in a major exhibition running from 12 September 2012 to 13 January 2013.  This exhibition, called Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, is launched nearly three decades after a previous Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, held when the museum was still known as the Tate Gallery.

Art historian talking about a Tate exhibit

A 1984 news story about the Pre-Raphaelites and the Tate's last major exhibition of their work (PRE-RAPHAELITES ART. Channel 4 Early Evening News. 07-03-1984)

This Brotherhood of young artists – painters, sculptors, poets, designers – bemoaned the stagnation in the works of their contemporaries and their obsession with meticulous copying of the classics that ignored art’s purpose: making a statement.

Detailed portrait of a woman with fantastical elements

Some Pre-Raphaelite paintings were illustrations of the poetry that also came from within the movement (Jealousy. Art Online, Culture Grid. Painted in 1890)

John Ruskin, a powerful critic and great ally of the Brotherhood, did much to cement their legacy in the world of art history.  He once declared that Pre-Raphaelite doctrine stood against art only for the sake of aesthetic pleasures – beauty, he said, could only ever be subordinate to the message within a work of art.

Portrait of John Ruskin as a young man

Ruskin was a friend of Pre-Raphaelite brother John Millais, but the pair were involved in a love triangle with Ruskin's then-wife Effie, who went on to marry Millais (Portrait of John Ruskin as a young man. By George Richmond, Wellcome Images. 1900)

And send a message they did.  Their use of photographic realism in Christian scenes enraged critics, including Charles Dickens.  And Pre-Raphaelite women, especially those painted by Rossetti, were often derided for their ‘fleshy’ nature.

It wasn’t all about grandiose stabs at orthodoxy.  Their youthful vigour and passion for playful details make Pre-Raphaelite works favourites with the public to this day.

Painting of a woman clutching a pot of basil

This painting has it all: love, tragedy, basil (Isabella and the Pot of Basil. Art Online, Culture Grid. Painted in 1867)

The original Brotherhood was a relatively small group who worked for a short time as “brethren”, but the movement they started, the ideals they championed and the artistic styles they advocated reached far and wide in Britain and beyond.  Indeed, fans of the Pre-Raphaelite movement can be found around the world.

Export of Art Review Committee investigating

One of the Tate's Pre-Raphaelite pieces came into their hands during a bit of a scandal… (Art Deal. Channel 4 Early Evening News. 13-08-1998)

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