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Pre-Raphaelitism was a countercultural movement that aimed to reform Victorian art

and writing. It originated with the foundation, in 1848, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
(PRB) by, among others, the artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William
Holman Hunt.

The name Pre-Raphaelitism derives from these artists’ controversial admiration for painting
before the era of Raphael (b. 1483–d. 1520). Other principles they followed in their art included
rejecting academicism, representing nature faithfully, and stressing the interconnections
between literature and painting.

The innovations championed by the Pre-Raphaelites immediately attracted widespread


condemnation, but they won the important support of John Ruskin, who played an important
role in promoting the movement.

Together with Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites were instrumental in spreading a taste for
medievalism in evidence in several aspects of Victorian literature and arts. In the 1860s Pre-
Raphaelitism underwent a second wave, associated mainly with the work of Edward Burne-
Jones, which departed from the realism of early pre-Raphaelite works and moved instead
toward myth and aestheticism.

While the origins of Pre-Raphaelitism are in painting, the ideas behind the movement quickly
spread to literature, especially poetry. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the original founders of
the PRB, was also a poet, and aspects of Pre-Raphaelitism can likewise be seen in the work of
authors such as Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne, William Morris, and Walter
Pater.

Pre-Raphaelite poetry broke with the set tradition of poets like Tennyson. The Pre-Raphaelites
revolted against the over-concern of poets like Tennyson with contemporary socio-political
problems. Consequently, none of the Pre-Raphaelites concerns himself with sordid realism and
the mundane issues of his day, but excapes to a dreamworld of his own making.
The Pre-Raphaelites, as a rule, bothered more about the particular than about the general. Both
in their painting and their poetry we come across a persistent tendency to dwell scrupulously
on each and every detail, however minor or even insignificant by itself. They do not wield a
broad and hurried brush, but love to linger on details for their own sake. They tried to paint the
thing itself-not a traditional copy of it. For a perfect faithfulness of description the fidelity to
details was, therefore, necessary. Sometimes this concern for details degenerates into a
mannerised trick, but very often it strikes the reader with a forceful, concrete effect, making for
freshness of perception. It may be pointed out that even before the Pre-Raphaelites, in some
poems such as Tennyson’s Mariana, Coleridge’s Christabel,and Keats’s The Eve of St.
Mark) this tendency to linger on simple details is discernible. Indeed, Christabel has rightly
been called “the first Pre-Raphaelite poem.”

A number of other artists have been inspired by the work of Rossetti and Burne-Jones, among
them Walter Crane (1845-1915), Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), and Spencer Stanhope (1829-
1908). None of these was a Pre-Raphaelite in the original sense of the word as used by Hunt
and Millais. Their aims were primarily decorative and not naturalistic, and the work of Rossetti
is the only link between them and the original movement. In another sense they may justly be
called Pre-Raphaelites, for most of them show the inspiration of artists who lived before
Raphael.

Pre-Raphaelitism was the most important artistic movement of the Victorian age in England.
As a movement it has been for some years out of fashion, but its influence on English art is not
yet exhausted. From it originated the renewed interest in decorative crafts which helped to
launch such societies as the Arts and Crafts Society and the Art Workers' Guild, and raised the
standard of decorative art throughout England. It checked the rapid decline in English painting
apparent in the early years of the nineteenth century, and Pre-Raphaelite inspiration can still be
seen in the work of many English painters of the modern school, side by side with elements
derived from foreign sources. (For the influence of Romantic art on painting in Germany,
see: German Art, 19th Century.) Burne-Jones, in particular, for all the languid grace of his
figures, now so unfashionable, was, in his insistence on the abstract elements of picture-making,
a forerunner of modern art.

Pre-Raphaelitism was the first of a series of interconnected movements that introduced a note
of dissent in the Victorian public culture of art: from the 1860s onward it can therefore be seen
to shade into aestheticism first and then into decadence, two movements in which the literary
component is more pronounced. As such, Pre-Raphaelitism should be understood to encompass
a range of arts including painting and sculpture but also poetry, fiction, and criticism. Pre-
Raphaelitism also became one of the dominant influences on English literature from the 1850s
to the end of the 19th century.

In the 20th century artistic ideals changed, and art moved away from representing reality. Since
the Pre-Raphaelites were fixed on portraying things with near-photographic precision, though
with a distinctive attention to detailed surface-patterns, their work was devalued by many
painters and critics. After the First World War, British Modernists associated Pre-Raphaelite
art with the repressive and backward times in which they grew up. In the 1960s there was a
major revival of Pre-Raphaelitism.

The Pre-Raphaelites have long been a rich source of inspiration for generations of artists and
creatives, who have been drawn to the art movement that has it all: drama, tragedy, myths,
legends and religious fables. Ahead of works by John William Waterhouse and Edward Burne-
Jones being offered for sale in the Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art, we
look at the lasting influence these artists have over the image makers of today, from fashion
and music to literature and film.