Around 1860, the Pre-Raphaelites began to turn away from a realist engagement with nature, society and religion to explore the purely aesthetic possibilities of picture-making. Beauty came to be valued more highly than truth, as Pre-Raphaelitism slowly metamorphosed into the Aesthetic movement.
In 1855 Millais started creating compositions ‘full of beauty and without subject’, such as Autumn Leaves. But Rossetti was the dominant force in the era of ‘art for art’s sake’ after 1860. After his return to oil painting in 1859 his work became more sensuous in both style and subject. Rejecting sharp outlines and pure colours, he adopted the rich impasto and saturated hues of Venetian art from after the time of Raphael.
The female face and body became the most important subjects for Pre-Raphaelite art. As Rossetti’s principal model of the early 1860s, Fanny Cornforth may be considered a collaborator in producing some of his most ambitious works, a role Jane Morris later assumed.
Photography came to be valued more for its creative potential than its accuracy of representation. Julia Margaret Cameron expanded the expressive range of the camera, creating a distinctive Aestheticist photography whose roots lay in Pre-Raphaelite painting