Today, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde finally opens to the public. It has been five years since Tim Barringer, Professor of History of Art at Yale University, Jason Rosenfeld, Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, New York and I started working to put together what we hope you will agree is a remarkable exhibition.

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde Installation view showing carpet, tapestry, book, stained glass and William Morris's bed
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde
Installation view at Tate Britain

The Pre-Raphaelites reached across the fine and decorative arts, and this major survey show showcases paintings from some of Britain’s best known painters – including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais – alongside works in a range of media, from photography and sculpture to tapestry, stained glass and furniture.

Ford Madox Brown Work 1852-1865
Ford Madox Brown
Work 1852–65

As well as favourite works such as John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, highlights of the show include Ford Madox Brown’s polemical painting Work (a ‘consummate achievement of 19th century realism’ as Tim Barringer puts it) and William Holman Hunt’s rarely-seen and almost-psychedelic The Lady of Shalott, which Jason Rosenfeld  has characterised as ‘the Steven Spielberg or Ridley Scott of late 19th-century painting .. it feels cinematic and it is meant to blow you away.’

William Morris's Bed
William Morris's Bed

Bringing together these striking paintings with embroideries made for William Morris’s bed at Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire and the beautiful wardrobe designed by Philip Webb and painted by Edward Burne-Jones, we hope to show you how the Pre-Raphaelites were advanced in their approach to every genre, playing a crucial role in the early development of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the socialist ideas of the poet, designer and theorist, William Morris.

Edward Coley Burne-Jones The Prioress's Tale Wardrobe 1858
Edward Coley Burne-Jones
The Prioress's Tale Wardrobe 1858

While they looked back to a time before Raphael, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were not nostalgic but rather had a real understanding of traditions and craft. The Victorian period was a time of great social political and religious change in Britain, and so we are excited to be able to reveal the self-conscious rebellion of the PRB against this backdrop: the importance of women practitioners, new ideas of beauty, overt references to sex, and political and social agitation. Truly avant-garde, we hope you will see the PRB in a new light through this show. 

You can find many more images from the show on Tate’s Pre-Raphaelite Pinterest board. If you do visit the show, please leave us a comment below or join the discussion on Tate’s Facebook page or @Tate on Twitter - using the tag #PreRaph.

Travel to Russia in July 2013, and visit the Pre-Raphaelites at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum in the company of co-curator Dr Jason Rosenfeld. For more information please visit Tate Travels.


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