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The Pre-Raphaelite Movement Collage

The Pre-Raphaelite Movement

Started: 1848

Ended: 1890

The Pre-Raphaelite Movement Timeline

Important Art and Artists of The Pre-Raphaelite Movement

The below artworks are the most important in The Pre-Raphaelite Movement - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in The Pre-Raphaelite Movement. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1848-9)

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1848-9)

Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting by Rossetti was the first Pre-Raphaelite work to appear in public. It featured the secretive initials "PRB," indicating that the artist was a member of the newly established Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In the painting, the Virgin Mary appears at home with her mother, St. Anne, and an angel, while her father tends the garden outside the window.

The style is deliberately modeled on late Medieval and early Renaissance paintings, which were highly unpopular in Victorian England at the time. The composition defies the techniques of traditional perspective, with a notable flatness between the foreground and background, which foreshadows later artists' rejections of classical ways of depicting realistic space.

As art historian Jason Rosenfeld points out, "Rossetti's picture represents a revivalist style that draws on early Renaissance paintings from Northern Europe and Italy, blended with a comprehensive religious symbolism expressed in a profusion of clearly observed details and natural forms, such as the lilies redolent of the Virgin Mary's purity and the lamp evoking piety." Rossetti adds another touch of realism by portraying the likenesses of his mother and sister as Mary and Saint Anne; at the time this was considered blasphemous given the standard dependence on classical models for the Holy Family. Rossetti's daring combined with his Medievalist style was highly controversial and drew attention to the limits of the "Grand Manner" that was still celebrated in the British Academy. In effect, Rossetti was proposing a radical alternative way to represent even the most sacred of subjects.

Oil on canvas - Tate, London

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) (1849-50)

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) (1849-50)

Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Artwork description & Analysis: Rossetti's painting of the Annunciation is still mystifying viewers in the twenty-first century. The angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary of her impending miraculous pregnancy is one of the most familiar and popular subjects in religious art, but Rossetti's interpretation of the moment is utterly singular and was criticized for its realism when it was first exhibited.

Taking his inspiration from early Italian frescoes, like those by the monk Fra Angelico, Rossetti chose a simplified palette and composition. But within these self-imposed boundaries, and despite the inclusion of many recognizable symbols of the Virgin (the lilies, etc.), the scene departs totally from traditional depictions. The artist used his sister as a model for the Virgin, highlighting her red hair and the innocent, fragile state of a young woman just awakening from sleep. Since the Renaissance the Annunciation had been used as an example for women's piety and virginity, but the modern expression on Rossetti's Virgin's face and her posture seem disturbed and mysterious, and are difficult to interpret as pious. This uncertainty introduced into a sacred scene is typical of Rossetti, and it is above all his naturalism that allows the viewer to experience such a profound connection to the humanity of the normally idealized Virgin.

Oil on canvas - Tate, London

Ophelia (1851-2)

Ophelia (1851-2)

Artist: John Everett Millais

Artwork description & Analysis: Ophelia is arguably both John Everett Millais' masterpiece and the most iconic work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Painted when he was only 22 years old, Millais worked for months in the open air in the countryside, composing the background with painstaking detail. In addition to flowers and boughs, Millais included reeds, the muddy bank, and a water rat.

Elizabeth Siddall, a cutlery-maker's daughter whose unusual looks were highly regarded by Pre-Raphaelite artists, modeled the figure of Ophelia, whose death is described in Shakespeare's Hamlet by Queen Gertrude. Ophelia, having gone mad from Hamlet's rejection, sinks slowly into the river while singing. Millais posed his model in a bathtub filled with water to accurately capture the effect of water on her clothes and hair. Famously, the model nearly died after the candles warming the water went out and she caught pneumonia. Well beyond earlier Victorian genre paintings, in Ophelia Millais strived to recreate a moment from a fictional work as it really happened, in a way that is highly realistic, while being simultaneously romantic and dramatic.

Oil on canvas - Tate, London

Our English Coasts (Strayed Sheep) (1852)

Our English Coasts (Strayed Sheep) (1852)

Artist: William Holman Hunt

Artwork description & Analysis: Landscape painting was an important expression of the Pre-Raphaelite commitment to nature and Hunt painted much of this scene outside, on the cliffs near Hastings. This pastoral painting was celebrated for its naturalism: Hunt's special attention to the specific changing effects of light across a wide variety of surfaces (field, flower, wool, water, sky), all of which would have appeared extremely modern to the Royal Academy where it was first exhibited in 1853. In a bold departure from idealized scenes of the English countryside, the asymmetrical composition traps the lost sheep in a disorderly tangle of coastal vegetation.

The picture also carried a deep political significance. The cliffs of southern England face toward France and hint at the possibility of foreign invasion. For a populace nervous about Napoleon III's 1851 coup d'etat, Hunt's untended sheep, perched precariously on the cliff's edge, may have represented the vulnerability of the British nation and her coasts. Hunt further emphasizes this political reading of the landscape with the sheep's expressions; their appealing individuality draws the viewer's concern to their fate and the future of England. When the painting was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855, Hunt changed its name to "Strayed Sheep," possibly to facilitate more neutral interpretations.

Oil on canvas - Tate Britain, London

The Awakening Conscience (1853)

The Awakening Conscience (1853)

Artist: William Holman Hunt

Artwork description & Analysis: A key part of the original Pre-Raphaelite ideology was to subtly challenge basic tenets of Victorian morality. In The Awakening Conscience, Hunt portrays an unmarried woman in the role of a mistress. The artist clearly demonstrates her unmarried state by emphasizing her left hand, where a ring is missing from her fourth finger (and yet all other fingers have rings, a testament to the gifts of her lover). The painting expresses her moment of realization, as she rises from the lap of her lover with an enraptured expression, looking from the dark interior of the stuffy Victorian parlor to the beautiful sunlit garden outside (seen by the viewer in the mirror in the background). The discarded glove on the floor below her may symbolize the future (she realized) she faces.

In the bottom left corner, a cat has caught a bird, mirroring the gentleman and his mistress and indicating the trap he has prepared for her. Here, Hunt provides an unusual and controversial view of prostitution in Victorian England. As Tate curator Alison Smith argues, "Hunt was offering an alternative narrative to the downward trajectory through prostitution to the grave propagated in much of the contemporary literature surrounding the fallen woman."

The moral message of the painting is presented lightly, even ambivalently. The visual confusion of the room is heightened by her half-risen stance, which could be interpreted as sitting down rather than getting up. This ambiguous, seemingly sympathetic view of a common - but never publicly discussed - situation was a unique interpretation that encouraged viewers to question their judgments, rather than supplying them with simple moral formulas.

Oil on canvas - Tate, London

Light of the World (1853-54)

Light of the World (1853-54)

Artist: William Holman Hunt

Artwork description & Analysis: Like many first-generation Pre-Raphaelite religious pictures, Hunt's painting of Jesus from Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..." faced fierce criticism when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854. Although Hunt struggled greatly with the nighttime light effects, it was not the naturalism that offended its initial audience; it was its largely unfamiliar religious iconography, which seemed worryingly Catholic - especially the ecclesiastical robes worn by Jesus.

After this critical reception, the painting was reproduced through engravings and other prints, and surprisingly, it became hugely popular with both Protestant and Catholic audiences. Almost fifty years later, Hunt was asked to paint another, larger version, that now hangs in St. Paul's Cathedral. Before it was donated to the cathedral by the businessman Charles Booth, it toured the British Empire for two years (1905-1907), drawing enormous crowds in Australia and South Africa (the Canadians weren't as impressed). Some scholars have suggested Booth saw a relationship between the Light of the World and the phrase "The sun never sets on the British Empire," linking the light of Christianity to the power and progress of the Empire.

One could make an argument that it was, for a time, the most famous painting in the world. It inspired endless copies, numerous Victorian poems, and even musical works, as well as being ubiquitous in Protestant religious publications. In an ironic, modern twist, Hunt was thus made world-famous by the industrial arts of popular culture that he spent a lifetime resisting.

Oil on canvas - Chapel at Keble College, Oxford

Lady Lilith (1866-8 (altered 1872-3))

Lady Lilith (1866-8 (altered 1872-3))

Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Artwork description & Analysis: In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Lady Lilith refers to the apocryphal first wife of Adam, a mystical figure who is often closely associated with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Although she appears in various narratives as a demon, murderess, and child abductor, the Pre-Raphaelites were probably most familiar with her Romantic description as a femme fatale in John Wolfgang von Goethe's poem Faust (1808). In Faust Goethe tells how Lilith traps men with her "dangerous" long hair, lyrically conflating her locks with a serpent's deadly embrace. Rossetti and other artists were greatly drawn to this erotic symbol of the conflicted sexual politics of the Victorian period.

Although the Victorians are sometimes characterized as a sexually repressed society, recent scholarship has shown a much more complex reality where strict "official" codes of behavior are juxtaposed with an extraordinary wealth of Victorian sexual literature, art, and pornography. The representation of women as possibly dangerous sexual creatures can seem contradictory in a time when their public roles and educational opportunities were expanding. And it was this conflict that seems to have obsessed Rossetti in his female portraits, which so often feature powerful, seemingly self-possessed women with mesmerizing physical attributes. In the accompanying poem to this work (which echoes Faust), Rossetti writes that Lilith entraps Adam with "one strangling golden hair," thereby playing off unbound female hair as a Victorian symbol for the fallen woman. Likewise, an oversized comb draws attention to this act of self-beautification and enticement.

However, for all the apparent power granted to her by this gesture, Lilith is depicted as looking into a mirror and not at the viewer, allowing the (presumably male) onlooker visual access to her sexualized body, which is scaled larger than life and occupies nearly the entire canvas. She is powerful and frightening, but she is also safely contained within Rossetti's painting for the pleasure of male viewers: the temptress trapped.

Oil on canvas - Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die! (1867)

Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die! (1867)

Artist: Julia Margaret Cameron

Artwork description & Analysis: Julia Margaret Cameron was one of several photographers inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites. As a woman, Cameron worked with certain restrictions, but the new medium of photography allowed her great freedom to experiment in her home studio, and amongst her friends and relations.

In the mid-1860s, she worked on a series of close-up images of heads and faces, often of women among her household. This photograph is a portrait of her maid, Mary Hillier. Rejecting the conventions of stiff, formal Victorian photography, Cameron presents Mary as a sensual and free subject, with the Pre-Raphaelites' signature flowing hair and parted lips. She is dressed in simple clothing and set against a plain background, eliminating any telling narrative details in favor of an expressive focus. And in keeping with the poetic sensibility of the movement, the title of the photograph refers to a line spoken by one of the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson's tragic heroines: Eleanor, who dies of unrequited love for Sir Lancelot.

Cameron saw the work as a refusal of "mere conventional topographic photography - map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form," which she saw in most photography at the time. Instead, she believed it was possible to use photography as an art form in its own right (akin to painting), a rare step that relates to the innovations the Pre-Raphaelites inspired in other non-fine arts media, including furniture and textiles.

Carbon print photograph - Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Laus Veneris (1873-8)

Laus Veneris (1873-8)

Artist: Edward Burne-Jones

Artwork description & Analysis: The painting's subject is taken from the German legend of Tannhauser, the story of a knight who is taken in by the Roman goddess of love, Venus, and encouraged to live a life of sensual indulgence. Eventually, Tannhauser sees the error of his ways and chooses to repent. In Laus Veneris (Worship of Venus), Burne-Jones represents a vignette of Venus relaxing in her luxurious bower with her handmaidens in a scene of subtle eroticism.

Pre-Raphaelite scholar Tim Barringer describes this work as "one of the most daring and powerful works in the Pre-Raphaelite canon. In this work, Burne-Jones collapsed the boundaries between the fine and decorative arts, and offered a complex rumination on the relationship between art, music and love." The painting's flat perspectival plane and sweeps of bold color evoke the decorative arts (the painting itself has the feel of a tapestry), and the many aspects of the composition (from the flowing fabrics of dresses to the elaborate scene behind Venus and the peacock feather fan) create a highly ornamental surface. This emphasis on an aesthetically pleasing and harmonious composition was a point of inspiration for the Aesthetic movement, which became popular in the 1880s.

Laus Veneris is closely related to a poem of the same title by the writer Algernon Swinburne, published in a volume dedicated to Burne-Jones. The artist combined references to Swinburne's erotic stanzas such as "And I forgot fear and all weary things, / All ended prayers and perished thanksgivings, / Feeling her face with all her eager hair / Cleave to me, clinging as a fire that clings / To the body and to the raiment, burning them; /As after death I know that such-like flame / Shall cleave to me for ever; yea, what care, / Albeit I burn then, having felt the same?" with painterly, decorative surfaces that recall his work for Morris & Co. In doing so, Burne-Jones creates an image of female beauty and sensuality that is fundamentally modern.

Oil on canvas - Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Kelmscott Manor Bed Hangings (1891-3)

Kelmscott Manor Bed Hangings (1891-3)

Artist: May Morris

Artwork description & Analysis: In 1871, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti rented an Elizabethan house in the countryside together named Kelmscott Manor. Morris saw it as a place where he could fulfill his artistic and social ideals: living in harmony with nature and enjoying his work. He had an elaborate four-poster bed in the house, which he loved so much that he wrote a poem about it.

Morris' daughter May was a talented designer, seamstress and businesswoman, who ran the embroidery department of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. She created hangings for her father's bed and embroidered lines from Morris' poem onto them. The result is a unique combination of poetry, innovative design, and skillful craftwork that epitomizes her father's all-encompassing vision of Pre-Raphaelitism, and what makes a complete artwork.

Tate curator Alison Smith points out that "May was one of the leading craftworkers of the era, having developed an aptitude for embroidery during her girlhood that she supplemented by studying the technique at the South Kensington School of Design." May developed her own unique style of embroidery, inspired by her father and his love of nature, but with a freer hand and less rigidity of pattern. As with other Pre-Raphaelite furniture, the bed and its hangings were intended to be both art and a practical object. The hangings were displayed in an exhibition of arts and crafts production at a London gallery in 1893, confirming the late Pre-Raphaelite desire to incorporate art and beauty into every element of life.

Cotton, embroidery - Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire



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The Pre-Raphaelite Movement Image

Related Art and Artists

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (1876-77)

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (1876-77)

Movement: The Aesthetic Movement

Artist: James Whistler

Artwork description & Analysis: Shipping magnate Frederick Leyland invited interior architect Thomas Jekyll to design a dining room for his London home that would both compliment a painting in situ by Whistler entitled The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (1863-65) and display the patron's collection of blue and white porcelain. Unable to finish the commission due to illness, Jekyll was soon replaced with Whistler, who was asked to put finishing touches on the room. Whistler, however, interpreted this as carte blanche and completely redesigned the space as he saw fit. He covered the walls with turquoise blue and golden murals, painted the ceiling gold, and adorned it with a design of blue peacock feathers (a typical Aesthetic motif). Whistler later explained, "I just painted on. I went on - without design or sketch - it grew as I painted. And toward the end I reached [...] a point of perfection." Whistler's finished room, as he described it, embodied "harmony in blue and gold."

Leyland, however, was not impressed when he discovered the liberty Whistler had taken. The two argued extensively over the artist's compensation. Infuriated, Whistler apparently returned to the room and painted a mural of two male peacocks fighting - an allusion to the artist's and patron's falling out. Whistler dubbed the panel "Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room."

The Peacock Room is recognized as the most important example of Aestheticism applied to interior design in order to create an inspirational environment. Such Aesthetic rooms elevated interior design to the realm of fine art. Its simplified, silhouetted forms, rich glazes, and reference to distinctly Japanese motifs, such as the peacock and bamboo, also make it an important example of the Anglo-Japanese style.

Oil paint and gold leaf on canvas, leather and wood - Freer Gallery, Washington DC

Tulip and Rose (1876)

Tulip and Rose (1876)

Movement: The Arts & Crafts Movement

Artist: Morris & Co.

Artwork description & Analysis: The Tulip and Rose curtain exemplifies the kinds of textiles and wallpaper designs produced by Morris' firm beginning in the 1860s. The dense, precisely interlocking pattern of the wool fabric, using curved and exaggerated forms of plants, flora (and sometimes fauna) became a hallmark of Morris & Company's fabric and wallpaper products in the 1870s and '80s.

Unlike Morris' earlier designs, which featured more naturalistic imagery, this textile demonstrates his move beyond emulation towards a sense of abstraction during his mature career. The flattened forms and the emphasis on line anticipate the stylization of nature later used by Art Nouveau, and calls attention to the nature of the wool's rough surface texture, thereby revealing the honesty in materials. Furthermore, the "hanging" quality of the imagery of plants and flowers speaks to the way vines cover an entire exterior wall surface - much like the curtain is supposed to cover the entire plane of a window, creating a consonance between the natural elements and man-made articles, in effect bridging or blurring the boundary between the natural world outside and the interior, even when the curtain is completely closed.

As much as the forms here look forward towards Art Nouveau, their flattened quality also looks backwards towards the forms of plants and living elements as depicted in Gothic stained-glass windows, and the curved linearity of the plants could also be said to mimic the forms of Gothic tracery. In this sense, the textile is as much revelatory of Morris' background and love of the Gothic as it is a forward-looking formal experiment.

Wool curtain, triple-cloth weave - Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York City

How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink (1893-4)

How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink (1893-4)

Artist: Aubrey Beardsley

Artwork description & Analysis: Produced for Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, this illustration was one of many that helped tell the author's interpretation of the story of King Arthur, so beloved by the Pre-Raphaelites. The image refers to Tristram and Isolde's doomed love story, which predates and likely influenced the romantic tale of Lancelot and Guinevere. Beardsley depicts the couple as androgynous figures separated by a decorative pillar that bifurcates the composition. The flowers within the picture framing and adorning its border seem ready to burst, suggesting fertile ripeness or perhaps foretelling the blossoming of something more sinister.

Although the book was considered only moderately successful at the time, it has since been dubbed Beardsley's first masterpiece and is credited with popularizing his unique early style that blended a simplified interpretation of textile designer William Morris's medieval floral patterns, Pre-Raphaelite romance, and the darker Decadent themes of sex and death. This drawing is not only an early example of the intersection of the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau; it was also a social critique. Beardsley's androgynous figures challenged established Victorian gender roles and traditional concepts of sexuality. His illustrations for Le Morte D'Arthur were the last created in his early style and were followed by his mature work in which the influence of the Japanese aesthetic is more evident.

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Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and revised by Rachel Furnari

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anna Souter
Edited and revised by Rachel Furnari
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