The Pre-Raphaelites were one of the first modern art movements, a major exhibition at Tate Britain this autumn will argue.
Curator Alison Smith said the 19th-century group, ‘self-consciously reacted against convention, against orthodoxy and established a new benchmark for modern painting both in Britain and internationally. The movement was invented in Britain and spread abroad. It is the one time when a British art movement changes the world.’
Led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelites rebelled against the art establishment of their day. Their unflinchingly radical style, inspired by the purity of early Renaissance painting, defied convention, provoked critics and entranced audiences.
As well as tackling controversial social issues – the seemingly innocent girl in Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience is actually the young man’s mistress, soon to be discarded and potentially ruined – the Pre-Raphaelites took a radical approach to technique, brightening colours and working outdoors a decade before the impressionists.
Despite the ongoing popularity of the movement – Millais’s Ophelia is one of the best-loved paintings in Tate’s collection – this will be the first major survey of their work for almost 30 years. It will bring together over 150 works, including masterpieces rarely seen in the UK, such as Holman Hunt’s psychedelic The Lady of Shalott from the United States.
The exhibition will also bring together objects designed by members of the movement, showing the important role they played in the early development of the arts and crafts movement. A highlight of the show will be William Morris’s bed which has been kindly loaned for the first time from Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, as well as a number of embroideries.