Pre-Raphaelite exhibition is an ethereal, poetic success

ART
PRE-RAPHAELITE, VICTORIAN AVANT GARDE
Tate Britain | ****

THE TATE Britain presents the most extensive Pre-Raphaelite exhibition on these shores in 25 years. The collection maps the progress of the brotherhood, paying special focus to the three originators; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, and records how they challenged the conventions of Victorian art to create one of the most influential avant-garde movements in British modern art.

Rejecting the traditional art of the academy, the Pre-Raphaelites looked back to Medieval and early Renaissance art, finding a resonance with the biblical and mythological narratives and the materialistic detailing of the past. In reaction to the turbulent political crises of the period and the restrictive traditionalism of the Victorian era, they brought a new romantic energy to art, which has captivated people ever since.

These works demand that you see them in person. A luminosity emanates from them, with jewel-like colours captured in the red of Elizabeth Siddal’s hair and in the flowers that surround Millais’ drowning Ophelia. Beauty and chivalrous love is found at the heart of all their work. Every room is filled with a mass of sumptuous, lyrical works, ranging from paintings and tapestries, to ornately painted wardrobes, ending with the work of William Morris and his progression into the arts and crafts movement.

These pictures, although idealistic, are not picture-boxy. There is a melancholy present in Edward Burne-Jones’ work that will leave you pensive, and an ethereal beauty to Rossetti’s paintings, which is wholly captivating. I challenge you not to fall in love with the Pre-Raphaelites and their poetic vision of the world.

Tate Britain; Millbank, SW1P 4RG; 12 September–13 January; tickets £14; tate.org.uk; 020 7887 8888.