Top 10 Pre-Raphaelite paintings

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood brought new life to British art in the 19th century. Here are ten of their most innovative paintings.


1

Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-52

  • Tate Britain
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

Ophelia remains the defining image of the Pre-Raphaelite era and is one of the highlights of the Tate collection. The art critic John Ruskin liked it, but thought its Surrey setting of Hogsmill River too parochial for Hamlet, describing the landscape as 'that rascally wire fenced garden-rolled-nursery-maid's paradise'. The model is of course the artist and Pre-Raphaelite muse Lizzie Siddall, who caught a cold while posing for the picture in a bath of water. Her father was so angry he threatened to sue Millais over the medical bills.


2

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Beloved (The Bride), 1865-66

  • Tate Britain
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

Rossetti was the most extravagant of the Brotherhood, brilliant, witty and allegedly irresistible to men and women. Life, for Rossetti, was about sex and he plundered the medieval period for sensual stories he could re-frame in a contemporary way. The Beloved (The Bride) is a perfect example. Based on the biblical Song of Solomon, it depicts the model Marie Ford lifting her veil for her betrothed, which in this case is the viewer. Throughout his career, Rossetti used unorthodox icons, including Lucrezia Borgia and Mary Magdalene, to create the ideal Pre-Raphaelite woman.


3

Arthur Hughes, The Long Engagement, 1854-59

  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
  • Free entry to exhibitions with National Art Pass

Arthur Hughes was younger than the Pre-Raphaelites and discovered their paintings while a student at the Royal Academy. So entranced was he by their brilliance that he kept their ideals alive long after the brotherhood had disbanded. The Long Engagement is a poignant work on a contemporary theme depicting two lovers who are too poor to marry. The length of their courtship is indicated by the ivy that has grown over the name Amy cut into a tree.


4

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris, 1873-75

  • Laing Art Gallery
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

A close friend of William Morris, Burne-Jones is described as one of the second generation of Pre-Raphaelite painters. A symbolist who absorbed classical motifs in his works, Laus Veneris is inspired by the eponymous poem by Algernon Swinburne and is a sensuous homage to music and art. Swinburne was another great friend of the artist's, whose visionary romanticism informed many of his paintings.


5

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blue Bower, 1865,

  • Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham
  • Free entry to all

According to Elisabeth Gaskell, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was 'hair-mad', and obsessed with 'a particular kind of reddish brown'. Credited with creating the archetypal Pre-Raphaelite woman - all red lips, Titianesque hair and pale skin – these women encapsulated his fantasies. The Blue Bower is a celebration of female sensuality and depicts the artist's earthy mistress, Fanny Cornforth. Like his poetry it is rife with fleshy symbolism, including a decorative pattern of passion flowers and convolvulus in the background.


6

Ford Madox Brown, Work, 1852-65,

  • Manchester City Art Gallery
  • Free entry to all

Brown was not a member of the Brotherhood, but he was intimately associated with them. A long suffering perfectionist, it took him 11 years to complete 'Work', but the result is a consummate masterpiece of nineteenth-century realism that takes you to the heart of Victorian London. In this radical social commentary on the English class system, Brown makes the common labourer the hero of his painting and pushes other social types, like the intelligentsia, the holy and the upper classes, to the edges of the frame.


7

John Everett Millais, Isabella, 1848-49

  • Walker Art Gallery
  • Free entry to all

Millais was just 19 years old when he painted this image of the doomed lovers Lorenzo and Isabella. One of the first paintings to be signed with the Pre-Raphaelite monogram PRB (carved into the foot of Isabella's stool), the subject matter comes from a poem by Keats. Like the early Renaissance painters before him, Millais used real people as his models including his sister-in-law, his father and his friends. Rossetti can be seen draining a wine glass in the background.


8

Edward Burne-Jones, The Star of Bethlehem, 1887-91

  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
  • Free entry to exhibitions with National Art Pass

When Edward Burne-Jones was commissioned to create a painting for the newly built Birmingham Art Gallery, he rose to the challenge, creating the largest watercolour in the world. Something of a technical tour-de-force, it took the Birmingham-born artist four years to complete and is the highlight of the Gallery's collection. The picture is based on a tapestry Burne-Jones made for his old College, Exeter, in Oxford where he had studied with William Morris.


9

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888

  • Tate Britain
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

The painter JW Waterhouse is sometimes described as the modern Pre-Raphaelite. Twenty years younger than the Brotherhood, he is credited with continuing their legacy. This painting evokes the Arthurian age. It is a melancholic scene based on Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem in which a young woman journeys by boat to Camelot and certain death. The landscape setting is highly naturalistic and made during Waterhouse's brief period of plein-air-painting.


10

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpine, 1874

  • Tate Britain
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

The story of Prosperine obsessed Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the last years of his life. Having fallen passionately in love with William Morris' wife Jane, he painted her several times as the tragic goddess of spring who is condemned to spend three months of every year in the underworld. In the picture, Jane stands half in sunlight and half in shadow, which reflected the couple's ambiguous relationship. Rossetti could not have Jane, but neither could he let her go.


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