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Pre-Raphaelites: the Victorian Avant-Garde

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Pre-Raphaelites were the first European avant-garde artists who protested against classical portraiture school with its wigs and powder, praising naturalness, romantics and Shakespearean beauty.


Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English masters, referred to both in art and literature of the second half of the XIX century, founded as a protest against the prudish traditions of Victorian England.
The name «Pre-Raphaelites» refers to their respect for the Florentine artists of the early Renaissance active «before Raphael»: Perugino, Giovanni Bellini, Fra Angelico.
Pre-Raphaelite revered clean bright colors, especially red and juicy green: the color of the lake water and herbs. Silhouettes of people on canvases are floating. They have something of the saints on their faces, the hair is dissolved. Heroines look like knights' ladies: light skin, long golden hair, dainty elongated silhouette, big eyes, flowing dresses.
John Everett Millais. Ophelia
Ophelia
1852, 76.2×111.8 cm

Inspired by Shakespeare

Main themes were biblical, as in the early Renaissance artists, and portraits of beautiful women, often on the background of nature. Finally, the audience fell in love with Pre-Raphaelite paintings thanks to Shakespeare’s motives. The most popular one is «Ophelia» by John Everett Millais (1852). Today he is one of the most beloved artists in England.
To distinguish the Pre-Raphaelites from the artists of the Renaissance, it is necessary to pay attention to the brightness of paintings: the Pre-Raphaelite colors were more richer, their paintings preserved better. It’s noticeable that they were painted in the XIX century, but not in the XV.
John Everett Millais. Lorenzo and Isabella. Fragment II

As Italian inspirers of the past, the Pre-Raphaelites have paid a lot of attention to the symbols painted from real life. For example, in the faces of the heroes of the painting «Isabella» by Millais traits of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s members can be traced.

The close relationship in the Brotherhood

Relationships in the Brotherhood were close, almost familial: the artists often fell in love with sisters of their comrades. James Collinson had some engagement to Rossetti’s sister Christina. Dante Rossetti met his future wife, the poetess Elizabeth Siddal, in the Millais' studio («Ophelia» was painted from her). The poetess was a constant model of many Pre-Raphaelites. She featured prominently in Rossetti’s early paintings of women, such as «Paolo and Francesca da Rimini», «Dantis Amor» («Dante's Love»), «Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah».

Famous Pre-Raphaelites artists

John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Collinson, Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Arthur Hughes, Walter Crane, John William Waterhouse, William Holman Hunt



The most famous paintings

— John Everett Millais «Ophelia», 1852. One of the first works on Shakespeare’s motives, after which the style was widely recognized by British public
— John Everett Millais «The Vale of Rest», 1858−1859, Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom.
— John William Waterhouse «The Lady of Shallot», 1888, Tate Britain, London, UK. It’s one of his most famous works, the epitome of the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
— John William Waterhouse «Hylas and the Nymphs», 1896
— William Holman Hunt «The Lady of Shallot», 1905.

Here's the story!


British TV drama serial «Desperate Romantics» tells about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, noted by critics for the actors and the artist-dresser's work
Artists mentioned in the article
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Biography • Artworks
Фра Беато Анджелико
Biography • Artworks
John Everett Millais
Biography • Artworks
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