The Pre-Raphaelites were a revolutionary Art movement founded in 1848 and influenced by the Political revolutions taking place in Europe and Britain. The Chartist movement the first working class political movement was active at this time. “The PRB as its adherents liked to call it set out with the objective of reforming British art”. . ” The PRB was launched in 1848 by 3 earnest and rebellious artists Dante Rossetti (1927-1910) William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and John Millais (1829-1910)”. .
They had a philosophy which was to reject what they felt was arid and boring academic art represented by Sir Joshua Reynolds an artist and President of the Royal Academy. They used the name Raphael to paint mythological and Religious paints in Raphael’s method of painting. Their philosophy was ” to have genuine ideas to express , to study nature attentively , to sympathise with what is direct and serious and to produce thoroughly good pictures”. .
As commentators have suggested Historical and religious pictures were used. “The PRB depicted both Historical and modern day subjects through a beguiling mixture of sharp realism and fantasy creating a brash new style that they felt harked back to medieval tradition”. .
They painted in a particular style as many art critics have suggested “Details such as the minimal realistic shadowing and the grass in the foreground gesture to a pre Raphaelite desire to faithfully represent nature”. . “The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood valued the example set by artists from the late Middle ages but they also cared passionately that their art should be relevant in the Modern world”. .
When Rossetti was befriended by Ford Madox Browne it was obvious that the Genre would change. In his painting called Work Ford Madox Browne is concerned with Class society . n a barge you can see members of the working class busily at work while observing them is the Bourgeois represented by Carlyle a know cultural critic of the time. Frederick Engels a friend and political ally of Karl Marx was to pay some aspects of Carlyle’s work.
Other artists were also to be part of the Pre Raphaelite tradition particularly John William Waterhouse 1848-1917) , Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919) Lawrence Alma Tadema (1848-1917)
Two important artists would join Rossetti during the latter period of his life Holman Hunt and Millais had already left. John Millais would be an important artist in the late Victorian period and Holman Hunt would concentrate on Paintings with a Religious theme.
The two artists to join and inspire Rossetti would be William Morris and Edward Burne Jones. “It was through Morris and Burne-Jones that Pre-Raphaelitism would briefly blossom anew in a different guise leading to the Aesthetic movement”. . Other critics have suggested that Rossetti’s art would lead to the Symbolist movement of Paul Gaugin and Others “Meanwhile Rossetti one of the great creative genuises of his time came later to be seen as a precursor of the important European Symbolist movement which believed that Art should represent absolute truths(Idealism LH) which can be described only indirectly using symbolic imagery”. .
This period was changing through the Industrial Revolution the development of Capital with its Nemesis the working Class. this was the period when Marx and Engels writing in the communist Manifesto would foretell of the death knell of Capitalism and the construction of socialism. This was the emergence of class society in Britain reflection great wealth and great poverty. “Ford Madox Browne provided a commentary on the place of Labour in contemporary society in his painting ‘work'”. .
William Morris would be the only Pre Raphaelite who would join the Revolutionary Marxist Movement in Britain. He also established a Printing press Kelmscott Press. “The Printing press of Kelmscott run and owned b y William Morris later took an interest in publishing , he established his own printing press”. .
The other aspect of Pre Raphaelite art was the female muse Jane Burden and others went to live with Rossetti , Jane Burden who was later to be Morris’s wife left him to live with Rossetti for a time. “Female muse, Jane Burden , fanny Cornforth and Elizabeth Siddal the flame haired pale skimmed pre Raphaelite Beauty with her thick neck , long jaw aquiline nose and sensual gaze”. .
” Along with Burne-jones William Morris became a friend and follower of Rossetti in the 1850’s.Morris was influenced by Rossetti’s Medievalism which he reinvented as his own taking Pre Raphaelitism in a new direction. Morris abandoned Oil Painting and focused on decorative and Book arts. He became an inspiration to the arts and craft movement, unlike other members of the Pre Raphaelite circle Morris Revolutionary artistic conviction coincided with Radical politics”. .
The Pre-Raphaelites continued according to Bethan “Pre-Raphaelitism has survived because it was an artistic Revolution .the intense vibrant look was a catalyst for rigorous new styles in field of art as diverse as Printmaking ,interior décor Painting ,Drawing and Book Binding”. .
Edward Thompson , a political Revolutionary and Historian has written a very useful Biography of Morris. “In the 1850’s however Morris abandoned the effort to analyse the cause for his hatred of civilisation and surrendered to the attractions of Romance. For it was just at this time that he came under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti”. .
There is also evidence that Politics Radical politics had touched members in the Pre Raphaelite movement. “Political revolt was present in the movement although it was not uppermost in young Morris or Burne Jones mind. Hunt and Millais had been touched by the spirit of 1848. They had joined the chartist procession on April 10th”. .
Morris would go on in 1883 to join a Marxist Organisation in Britain The Social Democratic Federation led by Hyndman, Both Edward Aveling the Husband of Eleanor Marx the youngest of Karl Marx’s daughters together with Belfort Bax and Engels were members of the SDF. Thompson comments “But underneath the shy gruff bohemian exterior of the young William Morris were qualities the others lacked-the qualities of a fighter”. .
In December 1884 the SDF split and Morris with the Majority went on to form the Socialist League.
“When he became converted to Socialism by studying Capital early in 1884 he accepted Marxism as being in the strictest sense a Science”. .
I have here given an exposition on the development of the Pre Raphaelite Movement and its importance to British Art during the Late Victorian Art. This was the nearest the British got to an Avant Garde Movement.
1) 100 PRE RAPHAELITE MASTERPIECES PG.6
2) DITTO PG.6
3) DITTO PG.7
4) DITTO PG.8
5) THE PRE-RAPHAELITES BETHAN STEVENS PG.6
6) DITTO PG.12
7) DITTO PG.12
8) DITTO PG.14
9) DITTO PG.12
10) DITTO PG.13
11) DITTO PG.24
12) DITTO PG.23
13) DITTO PG.32
14) DITTO PG.32
15) DITTO PG.94
16) EDWARD THOMPSON WILLIAM MORRIS PG.40
17) DITTO PG.61