The term Victorian refers to British life and culture during Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901; in relation to art it alludes to the style of artwork created during that period

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Introduction to Victorian art

When used to reference social behaviour and art and design, the term Victorian carries connotations of stuffiness, repressiveness and rigid devotion to tradition.

In art specifically the term is perhaps exemplified in the genre painting which provides an extraordinary panorama of the life of the period, including rural naturalism and social realism, but Victorian genre is perhaps particularly associated with the sentimental and reassuring work of Sir David Wilkie and his followers.

For an introductory taster of Victorian art, watch curator Alison Smith as she takes us on a tour of the artworks displayed in the 1840–1890 gallery at Tate Britain.

Further reading

Focus: Victorian Sentimentality
Read the room guide for this Tate Britain display which took a fresh look at Victorian sentimentality in art and provided new insights into this much maligned and misunderstood phenomenon.

Exposed: The Victorian Nude
The exposure of the body through images of the nude was one of the most controversial issues in Victorian art. Tate’s 2002 exhibition Exposed: The Victorian Nude charted the development of the nude as subject matter highlighting concerns about sexuality, desire and censorship that are still relevant today. Read this online room guide for a fascinating take on this controversial subject.

Material wonders of the Victorian age
Tate etc. article exploring how Victorian sculptors made use of technological advances in creating their works.

Other perspectives

Legendary Queen guitarist (and avid stereographic picture collector) Brian May explains his passion for early three-dimensional photography in this TateShots video.

Expression of the Sightless
Watch David Johnson who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at fifteen, trace his way around selected artworks in Sculpture Victorious, drawing on his own visual recollection to imagine the scene before him.

TateShots: Richard Dadd, The Artist and the Asylum
Murder, insanity and painting; the story of Richard Dadd is a fascinating one…discover more about this Victorian painter of fantastical fairy scenes in this TateShots video.

Works of the week: A Favourite Custom by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and La Hollandaise by Walter Sickert
In Tate Britain’s chronoligal display of British art, two very different Victorian paintings are displayed side by side in the gallery. Art historian and Tate Britain Director, Penelope Curtis, shines a light on the works.

Tate Archive 40 | 1985 J.E. Millais ‘Money Talks’
This fascinating blog unearths a letter from Tate’s Archive written by leading Pre-Rapahelite artist John Everett Millais to his brother, revealing a practical side to the artist in relation to finances.

In detail

British Art Network: Overlooked Victorian Artists
Listen to audio recordings from this seminar which explored Victorian artists, male and female, who were well-known in their day but have since come to occupy a marginal position in the history of British art. 

A Dramatic Reading of Augustus Leopold Egg’s Untitled Triptych
Article exploring the significance of the theatrical and literary references found in the triptych Past and Present 1858 by the Victorian painter Augustus Leopold Egg.

John Everett Millais’s Hearts are Trumps 1872 
Find out about the conservation project to explore Millais’s painting Hearts are Trumps to its original glory.