The Pre-Raphaelites were a secret society of young artists (and one writer), founded in London in 1848. They were opposed to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the ideal as exemplified in the work of Raphael

Introduction to the Pre-Raphaelite movement

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The name Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood referred to the groups’ opposition to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the Renaissance master Raphael. They were also in revolt also against the triviality of the immensely popular genre painting of time.

Inspired by the theories of John Ruskin, who urged artists to ‘go to nature’, they believed in an art of serious subjects treated with maximum realism. Their principal themes were initially religious, but they also used subjects from literature and poetry, particularly those dealing with love and death. They also explored modern social problems.

Its principal members were  William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After initial heavy opposition the Pre-Raphaelites became highly influential, with a second phase of the movement from about 1860, inspired particularly by the work of Rossetti, making major contribution to symbolism.

Further reading

Why were the Pre-Raphaelite’s so shocking?
Find out why Pre-Raphaelite artworks were considered objectionable and morally shocking when they were first painted in the nineteenth century

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition
This exhibition, which was on display at Tate Britain in 2012, presented the Pre-Raphaelites as an avant-garde movement. Read the room guide and see which works were on display

Pre-Raphaelite works in focus


Ophelia learning resource
John Everett Millais’s Ophelia 1851–2 was part of the original Henry Tate Gift in 1894 and remains one of the most popular Pre-Raphaelite works in Tate’s collection. Use this learning resource to examine the work in detail including the subject, meaning and symbolism in the painting, Millais materials and techniques as well as the conservation of the artwork and an introduction to the artist.


Curator Jason Rosenfeld reveals the story behind John Everett Millais’s painting Isabella (which was on loan to Tate Britain from the Walker Art Gallery in 2012).

The Pre-Raphaelites in context

The Pre-Raphaelites were active in the mid-nineteenth century. Watch curator Allison Smith discuss what else was happening at the time in the art world.

Other perspectives on the Pre-Raphaelites

Lucinda Hawksley on Ophelia
Read this personal interpretation of Millais’s Ophelia, focusing on the sensations of water

Women and the Pre-Raphaelites

Three modern muses, Karen Elson, Daisy Lowe and Laura Bailey, meet the women at the heart of the Pre-Raphaelite movements most celebrated paintings – Elizabeth Siddal, Christina Rossetti and ‘Lady Lillith’

The Pre-Raphaelites in detail

Sugar, Salt and Curdled Milk: Millais and the Synthetic Subject
This research article by Carol Jacobi examines the sexual imagery of particular paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais

Conserving John Everett Millais’s Hearts are Trumps 1872
Find out about the frame and painting conservation project on Millais’s Hearts are Trumps before it went on display in 2012

How it’s Made: Millais
In this post, Susan Breen explains how the paintings conservation team breathed new life in to The North-West Passage by John Everett Millais.

The Pre-Raphaelites for kids

This blog post and game are a fun and simple way to introduce the pre-raphaelites to kids, whether in the classroom or at home.

Who is Millais?
…and who is the woman behind his most famous painting Ophelia? 

Art Lab
Kids can get closer to art works from Tate’s collection including three pre-raphaelite paintings with this enjoyable conservation game. 


Other Pre-Raphaelite collections in the UK