There is one room that I always visit each time I visit the Tate Gallery in London. This is The Pre-Raphaelite gallery. It contains some of my favourite paintings in particular The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse. If you ever get to the Tate please go and take a good look at this painting and the others in this room. I promise that it is worth the visit.
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Lady of Shalott
Pre-Raphaelites is a term used by a small group of 19th century young artists. In fact the full title is The Brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites and as a name for a group of revolutionaries it sounds very grand. It is taken from the founders of the groups passion for the early Italian painters that preceded Raphael. They were young, highly gifted, earnest and interested in making changes to the established artistic beliefs and views of the time. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams as their influence lasted until the end of the 19th century even though the group only lasted for about 4 years. The movement began when Dante Gabriel Rossetti,William Holman Hunt became friends as Academy students. Hunt was already friends with John Everett Millais who had entered the Academy schools at ten as an infant prodigy. They began to meet in as a group in secret known only to fellow ‘members’. It probably suited their young idealistic hearts that they were starting a revolution and needed to keep it quiet until the right moment. They wanted to produce a higher more noble form of art based on many of the ideals of honesty and simplicity of the original pre-Raphaelites whilst adhering to realism in nature. They painted romantic pictures based on poetry by Keats and Wordsworth,Arthurian legends and romantic, tragic lovers. They loved the medieval whilst embracing modern scientific rationalism and morality. When I think of Victorians I think of the Pre-Raphaelites and how they typify everything that was good about Victorian art, design and even how the smallest tool or machine or object would be beautifully crafted and produced to last for a very long time
When the ‘secret’ came out there was understandably uproar as the establishment had begun to already accept the young artists as worthy future additions to the institutions of the day. However a ‘secret’ revolutionary group of young upstart artist students was not to be countenanced. The results were that the Brotherhood found themselves reviled and despised by the art critics and newspapers mainly because they were thought of as dangerous and possibly papists because of the religious content of their work. Their work now became controversial. They were attacked by the media of the day with a ferociousness that can compare to that which Damien Hirst had directed at his work.
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Christ in the House of His Parents
The now famous furore about Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents and the attacks on this painting by prominent writers and journalists including one Charles Dickens brought things to a head and indeed if it were not for the intervention of John Ruskin a prominent art critic writing to The Times in defence of The Pre-Raphaelites things may have gone badly for the group. However as Millais went on to become Sir John Millais we can assume that The Brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites were forgiven and in their own lifetimes became part of the ‘establishment’.
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