Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant Garde: Room 1

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Origins and Manifesto

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in September 1848 at a turbulent time when ruptures in the new industrial society became visible. Hunt and Millais witnessed a Chartist demonstration in that year.

Many Victorians felt that in the machine age, beauty and spirituality had been lost. Gothic Revival architects like Augustus Pugin turned back to medieval styles. The German Nazarene painters rejected modernity and adopted historical styles of painting and of dress. John Ruskin described in The Stones of Venice the ‘freedom’ of medieval times in contrast to the ‘slavery’ of the modern factory. The invention of photography in 1839 profoundly changed the way people perceived the world. All these influenced the young Pre-Raphaelites.

At first, they formed a tight-knit, conspiratorial group, refusing to explain the initials PRB on their canvases. Their early works caused critical protest. The sharp outlines and bright colours derived from the early Italian paintings at the National Gallery. The PRB published a journal, The Germ, which acted as a manifesto, planting the seeds of artistic revolution.

The Pre-Raphaelites managed to be both historical and contemporary in their approach. They adopted the freshness of early-Renaissance art, but their work is essentially modern.

See also

Tate Britain Exhibition


26 Sep 2007 – 13 Jan 2008
John Everett Millais, Tate Britain

John Everett Millais's Hearts are Trumps 1872

Prior to display at Tate Britain, John Millais’s Hearts are Trumps 1872 underwent major painting and frame conservation

Press Release

Ruskin, Turner and The Pre-Raphaelites

7 Jan 2000
Ruskin, Turner and The Pre-Raphaelites: Press release related to past exhibition.

Turner Whistler Monet Ruskin v Whistler

Turner Whistler Monet exhibition at Tate Britain: Ruskin v Whistler