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The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood at the Delaware Art Museum

I’ve always loved the work of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and so it was with great delight that I joined my daughter, along with our family, just last weekend to see the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibit at the Delaware Art Museum after her graduation from the University of Delaware. As an English major and aficionado of Victorian poetry, she had been waiting a long time to see the exhibit and she tells me it was well worth the wait!

The Pre-Raphaelite artists were a group of English artists and poets that rejected the popular Mannerist style of painting that they believed had originated with the artist Raphael. They believed that the intellectual and overly dramatic emphasis in the Mannerist style was objectionable and sought to replace it with more natural, expressive and idealistic forms of art. They also sought to forge a connection between Romantic literature and art.

The art movement set into motion by the Pre-Raphaelites actually began in 1848 by three artists: John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Calling themselves The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), they rejected the rigid requirements of the Royal Academy of Arts of which both Hunt and Millais were students. In time, four more artists joined the brotherhood: James Collinson, William Michael Rossetti (brother of Dante), Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. The artists signed their paintings with the initials PRB. The existence of the brotherhood remained clandestine until their first exhibit in 1849 when their secret was divulged.

Popular subjects of Pre-Raphaelite art were drawn from Bible stories, classical mythology, Shakespeare, and nature. They also drew from poets of the times such as Alfred Tennyson and John Keats. Medieval culture also held a strong fascination for the Pre-Raphaelites. Unlike the Mannerists who used dark and muddy colors and dramatic poses in their works, the Pre-Raphaelites favored luminous, jewel-like colors and graceful, natural poses.

The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware has the most complete collection of Pre-Raphaelite works of art outside of Great Britain. It is located in a lovely residential area and has ample parking. We were lucky enough to be serenaded by a classical pianist as we viewed the collection, but not everyone will have this opportunity. My favorites were undoubtedly the works of Rossetti. Although the female subject in most of these paintings is somewhat masculine in some ways, she is nonetheless startlingly beautiful. The paintings are large, brilliant in color and elegant. Also of great beauty were the works of Edward Burne-Jones. Although not a member of the brotherhood, Burne-Jones was closely associated with them and was instrumental in bringing their ideas . I particularly liked a small painting by Frederick Sandys entitled Mary Magdalene. Mary’s beauty seemed to be more intrinsic than conventional and I enjoyed the difference.

You can learn more about the Delaware Art Museum by clicking here. For information specifically related to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit, please click here.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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