Thursday, September 20, 2012

Were The Pre-Raphaelites Really the Victorian Avant-Garde?

Can an idea that looks backward also look forward? That question hangs over the the Tate Britain’s new exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at the same moment that it celebrates the now crowd-pleasing artists that made up the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Edward Burne-Jones. As seductive as the femme fatales featured in works such as Rosetti’s Astarte Syriaca (from 1877; detail shown above), the idea that the Pre-Raphaelites stepped back aesthetically to step forward artistically seems just crazy enough to be true. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Were The Pre-Raphaelites Really the VictorianAvant-Garde?"

[Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Astarte Syriaca (detail), 1877. Copyright Manchester City Galleries.]

[Many thanks to the Tate Britain for the image above and other press materials related to the exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, which runs through January 13, 2013.]


Hels said...

Ha! That is exactly the question I ask myself each time I examine Pre Raphaelite paintings. And, the students do too!.

If I was in London just now, I would definitely go to the Tate's Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. Not because I think it can answer your question. But because the paintings are soooo lush.

Griffin said...

I agree. The Pre-Raphaelites, Symbolists and Art Nouveau got me into Art History in the first place. If they do that for more people, I don't think it matters if they were avant-garde or not.

In any case the notions of value in art are loaded in themselves. Who decides what is avant-garde and what/whose criteria are they using?

There is a sniffiness among art historians that if a school of art is widely loved it isn't avant-garde it's just populist. At the time, the Pre-Raph's were widely hated as were the Impressionists. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps for most people just the pleasure they get is enough.