The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was short-lived, with the individual members soon going in their own directions. But they had a profound influence on the next generation of artists and designers.
William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones went to Oxford University in order to enter the church, and it was in Oxford they discovered the Pre-Raphaelites.
Morris really responded to the visual aspects of Pre-Raphaelite art – its medievalism, bright colours, and strong sense of craftsmanship. It was these qualities that inspired him to go on to become an architect and a designer. After university they moved to London and quickly became friendly with their heroes Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and even the powerful critic John Ruskin. In 1861, Morris founded the decorative artists’ collective Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. In 1875 ‘the Firm’ was reorganised under Morris’s sole direction and produced the tiles, furniture, embroidery, carpets and wallpapers they are known for today.
In the current exhibition at Tate Britain, we wanted to show how the Pre-Raphaelites were progressive in trying to collapse or break down distinctions between media. Rather than having a division between the fine and applied arts, or between painting and drawing, they worked across different practices.
A key work is William Morris’s bed from Kelmscott Manor with the bed hangings, cover and valance designed by May Morris, his daughter, who took on a lead role in Morris’s firm as a director of the embroidery section. She was important both in promoting embroidery as an art form and in being a designer as well as a maker.
It shows that Pre-Raphaelitism gave space to women to not only appear in works of art as models, but also to become artists in their own right.
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Travel to Russia in July 2013, and visit the Pre-Raphaelites at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum in the company of co-curator Dr Jason Rosenfeld. For more information please visit Tate Travels.