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Tate Britain opens major survey of the Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde
John Everett Millais, Isabella 1848-9. National Museums of Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery.
LONDON.- Combining rebellion and revivalism, scientific precision and imaginative grandeur, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood shook the art world of mid-nineteenth-century Britain. In autumn 2012, Tate Britain is staging a major survey of the group which sets out to show that the Pre-Raphaelites constitute Britain’s first modern art movement. Bringing together over 150 works which combine famous and lesser known Pre-Raphaelite paintings with sculpture, photography and the applied arts, this exhibition will highlight the ambition and broad scope of their revolutionary ideas about art, design and society.

Led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelites rebelled against the art establishment of their day. Their unflinchingly radical style, inspired by the purity of early Renaissance painting, defied convention, provoked critics and entranced audiences.

Today, known for their exquisitely detailed, vividly coloured style, the works of the Pre-Raphaelites are among the best known of all English paintings. Tracing developments from their formation in 1848 through to their Symbolist creations of the 1890s, this exhibition shows that whether their subjects were taken from modern life or literature, the New Testament or classical mythology, the Pre-Raphaelites were committed to the idea of art’s potential to change society. In pieces such as Madox Brown’s The Last of England 1852-5 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) they served this aim by representing topical social issues and challenging prevailing attitudes. In other artworks including Burne-Jones’s King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid 1884 (Tate) a different approach is at work as they embraced beauty and ornamentation as a resistance to an increasingly industrialised society.

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde offers the chance to see well-known paintings such as Ophelia 1851-2 (Tate) by John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and The Scapegoat 1854-5 (National Museums Liverpool) by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). Highlights of the exhibition also include masterpieces rarely seen in the UK such as Rossetti’s Found 1854-5/1859-81 (Delaware Art Museum, USA), Burne-Jones’s Perseus series (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) and Holman Hunt’s psychedelic The Lady of Shalott 1886-1905 (Wadsworth Atheneum, Connecticut). Spectacular mature works by Hunt, Millias, Rossetti and Madox Brown will also be united for the exhibition.

In contrast to previous Pre-Raphaelite surveys, this exhibition juxtaposes paintings with works in other media including the applied arts, showing the important role of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the early development of the Arts and Crafts movement and the socialist ideas of the poet, designer and theorist, William Morris (1834-1896). Bringing together furniture and objects designed by Morris‘s firm, of which many Pre-Raphaelite artists were part, it shows how Morris’s iconography for British socialism ultimately evolved out of Pre-Raphaelitism. Highlights include Philip Webb and Burne-Jones’s The Prioress’s Tale wardrobe 1858 and the embroideries made by Jane and May Morris for William Morris’s bed at Kelmscott Manor c1891.

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is curated by Alison Smith, Curator (Head of British Art to 1900), Tate Britain; 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.



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