Tate Etc

They shook me Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at Tate Britain II

The guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin is a fan and collector of the art of the Pre-Raphaelites. He talks to Tate Etc. about his lifelong passion

I have had a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites since my early teens. I would have initially seen them as reproductions, but I remember a visit to Tate and encountering the actual paintings. They had a profound effect on me. It was quite an experience – the realism of their technique along with the idealism, and of course the romanticism.

This was before I attended art college. Most people would assume that it was there that I was first exposed to their work, but actually the teaching and syllabus of that time was much more to do with modern art and using modern materials – acrylics in particular – so oil painting, particularly of earlier styles, was not championed. My study of Pre- Raphaelitism, if you need to call it that, was therefore entirely self-driven and a personal quest.

Edward Coley Burne-Jones The Arming and Departure of the Knights of the Round Table and the Quest for the Holy Grail Pre-Raphaelite tapestry

Edward Coley Burne-Jones The Arming and Departure of the Knights of the Round Table and the Quest for the Holy Grail 1890–4
Cotton, wool and silk
240 x 347 cm
© The Bridgeman Art Library, private collection

 As you know, this art was selling for mere hundreds of pounds at the time, but I was a student and didn’t have that kind of money to buy it. However, as soon as I was in a position to do so, I indulged myself. As to which of the artists I most admired, of course I adored Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but is there any point or justification in singling out any of them? The art and life and death of Lizzie Siddal always moved me. I think it would be fair to say that I was pretty intoxicated with the whole movement.

Later, I had the chance to buy the two tapestries which are on loan to the Tate exhibition. There were three in an auction at Sotheby’s, Belgravia; I think the date was 1978. I fixed on the two I acquired, although all three were beautiful. What enthralled me was the majesty of their drawing and of the execution of the tapestries by those unbelievably skilled craftsmen. The attention to detail of the subject matter and even the background of verdure and flora is still quite astonishing to me. At the time I found it overwhelming. I only hope visitors to the exhibition will feel the same intensity of passion as I did when I first saw them. They were the absolute zenith of Burne-Jones’s and William Morris’s output. I believe Morris himself said the series of tapestries was his masterwork.

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