Art Term

Pre-Raphaelite

The Pre-Raphaelites were a secret society of young artists (and one writer), founded in London in 1848. They were opposed to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the ideal as exemplified in the work of Raphael

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, ‘Ophelia’ 1851–2
Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
Ophelia 1851–2
Tate

The name Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood referred to the groups’ opposition to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the Renaissance master Raphael. They were also in revolt also against the triviality of the immensely popular genre painting of time.

Inspired by the theories of John Ruskin, who urged artists to ‘go to nature’, they believed in an art of serious subjects treated with maximum realism. Their principal themes were initially religious, but they also used subjects from literature and poetry, particularly those dealing with love and death. They also explored modern social problems.

Its principal members were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After initial heavy opposition the Pre-Raphaelites became highly influential, with a second phase of the movement from about 1860, inspired particularly by the work of Rossetti, making major contribution to symbolism

Related terms and concepts

  • Renaissance

    French word meaning rebirth, now used in English to describe the great revival of art that took place in Italy ...

  • Genre painting

    The term genre painting refers to paintings which depict scenes of everyday life

  • Realism

    In its specific sense realism refers to a mid nineteenth century artistic movement characterised by subjects painted from everyday life ...

Explore this term

Selected artists in the collection

Selected artworks in the collection

Pre-Raphaelite at Tate

  • Tate Britain

    Exhibition

    Edward Burne-Jones

    24 Oct 2018 – 24 Feb 2019

    One of the last Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne-Jones brought imaginary worlds to life in awe-inspiring paintings, stained glass windows and tapestries 

  • Tate Britain

    Exhibition

    Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

    12 Sep 2012 – 13 Jan 2013
    Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde: Tate Britain exhibition until 13 January 2013 bringing together over 150 works in different media, including painting ...
  • Tate Britain

    Exhibition

    Millais

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