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Henry Wallis, "Chatterton," 1856, oil on canvas, 24 1/2 x 36 3/4 in. London, Tate Britain

Pre-Raphaelites Come to America

After drawing rave reviews at London’s Tate Modern, a landmark exhibition of artworks by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has arrived in the U.S. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation),” 1849-50, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 16 1/2 in. London, Tate Britain
The artist collective known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood forms an integral part of British and 19th-century art history. Around mid-century Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais presented to the art world a starkly different aesthetic than was in vogue. Selecting elements from Gothic and early Renaissance painting, the group sought an art that was pure, sincere, and spiritual. For their rebellion against the academic establishment, the Pre-Raphaelites have been called Britain’s first modern art movement – the “Victorian Avant-Garde.” 
The first ever large-scale exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art on U.S. soil is now on view at Washington’s National Gallery of Art. Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900 features around 130 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative objects, presenting a comprehensive survey of the group’s artistic output. 

Sir John Everett Millais, “Ophelia,” 1851-52, oil on canvas, 30 x 44 in. London, Tate Britain

William Holman Hunt, “The Awakening Conscience,” 1853, oil on canvas, 30 x 22 in. London, Tate Britain
Many paradigmatic examples of Pre-Raphaelite art have been included in the exhibition. Sir John Everett Millais’s homage to the tragic Shakespearean figure “Ophelia,” captivating in its precise decorative beauty and chilling subject matter, headlines the exhibition. Other premier works on display include William Holman Hunt’s provocative “Awakening Conscience” and Henry Wallis’s monument to the failed poet and suicide, “Chatterton.” Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation)” illustrates, perhaps better than any other work, the archaic aesthetic to which the Pre-Raphaelites aspired. Fine examples by Ford Madox Brown, William Morris, and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones fill out a wholly impressive exhibition.

Ford Madox Brown, “Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet,” 1852-6, oil on canvas, 46 x 52 1/2 in. London, Tate Britain
A related exhibition was staged at the Tate Britain, London, from September 12, 2012 through January 13, 2013. After its stay at the National Gallery, the show will travel to the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, where it will be on view June 10 through September 30. 
During its installation at the National Gallery, a second, smaller exhibition complements Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900. This exhibition, titled titled Pre-Raphaelites and the Book, highlights the literary production of the group, featuring books of poetry by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris and illustrated books published through Morris’s Kelmscott Press. 
Both exhibitions at the National Gallery are on view through May 19. An extensive list of events accompanies the shows, including gallery talks, lecture series, book signings, concerts, and workshops. For more information on exhibitions and events, visit

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a new weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here

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