There are some museum exhibitions that make me want to plan a trip. The Tate in London has really captured my interest with their show Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. The show is closing on January 13th and most of the tickets are sold out. A look at their online gallery surely explains why!
The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of British painters that formed in 1848. They formed to rebel against the art establishment during the time. Mannerism was the traditional style of painting, which was developed and pioneered by the great Renaissance painters Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. Mannerism, while beautiful, has a very artificial and contrived feel. This style was used to paint so much of the sacred art in churches in Europe.
The Pre-Raphaelites rejected the lavish and complicated compositions of Mannerism, favoring mythological themes, natural poses, and the imitation of nature.
Astarte Sylaca by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Image courtesy of Manchester City Galleries.
Led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) chose this name a way to start a reform movement. They wanted to create art that was uninfluenced by Mannerism, hence the idea of “before Raphael”. They also wrote a journal that recorded their thoughts and declarations on what painting should be.
Maria Zambaco by Edward Coley Burne-Jones
As someone that’s interested in fashion, I love how the PRB captured their ideas of beauty in a woman. Long, flowing wavy hair, big doe eyes, and a natural glow seems central to this standard of beauty. A lot of the luminescent in these paintings comes from how the PRB painted. They laid down white paint on the foreground and then added color.
I also really like that the PRB was inspired by nature. Their early manifesto on painted declared that Pre-Raphaelites should:
- have genuine ideas to express
- study nature attentively, so as to know how to express it
- sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by mechanical routine
- most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues
The exhibition at the Tate features over 150 works by the PRB and the 1858 wardrobe designed by Philip Webb and painted by Edward Burne-Jones on the theme of The Prioress’s Tale (a story from Geoffory Chaucher’s Canterbery Tales).
If you’re in London, please go!