The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848, the year of revolutions across Europe. Their first meeting was held at the family home of John Everett Millais at 83 Gower Street in Bloomsbury. The three principal members were Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. They wanted to challenge the dominance of the Royal Academy and give back to British art something of the originality and freshness they saw in Italian painting before Raphael (1480–1520).
In the first few years of the Brotherhood, the leading painters were greatly influenced by the artist and critic, John Ruskin. He urged artists to ‘go to Nature, rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing’. The bright colours and photographic attention to detail in Hunt’s Our English Coasts 1852 and Millais’s Ophelia 1851–2 were unprecedented.
The Pre-Raphaelites began as figure painters, but their desire to work directly from nature led them to focus on landscape painting. Their work influenced other landscape painters, including John Brett, John William Inchbold and George Price Boyce. Their concern for botanical accuracy and leaf-by-leaf realism was also shared by contemporary photographers, such as Henry White and Benjamin Brecknell Turner, whose work is included in this exhibition.
The desire of both painters and photographers to capture the ruggedness of mountains and the textures of stones was part of a wider Victorian obsession with natural history. This exhibition explores their geological and botanical fervour, and their delight in closely observing the natural world with a scientific eye.