In its later phase Pre-Raphaelitism developed along two fronts which can broadly be termed the realist, and the poetic or proto-Symbolist. The former was represented by Hunt, Millais and Brown, who all adhered to the founding principles of the movement, rejecting academic conventions of history painting in favour of an uncompromising naturalism, although now on a grand scale. The large canvases exhibited here demonstrate their interest in myth and the unconscious.
The ‘poetic’ strand is exemplified in the work of Rossetti and Burne-Jones where attention is focused on the human figure frozen in a drama. Both artists developed a visual language around the symbols in their compositions which do not cohere to form an overriding narrative or moral message, but communicate in more ambiguous terms, anticipating the art of the European Symbolist movement. Burne-Jones’s work could be seen as the culmination of Pre-Raphaelitism with its emphasis on draughtsmanship and refined execution. However, in rejecting the modern external world in favour of idealised visions of the past, his art marked a radical new departure in offering an imaginary alternative to the rampant materialism of Victorian Britain.