Although its tenure was brief and it counted only three serious painters among its founding members, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood left an indelible stamp on British art. Adopting the rich colors and minute detail characteristic of early Renaissance artists, this group of English artists rejected “rote” artistic conventions and instead sought to express heartfelt truths through direct study of nature. Under the influence of founding member Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) and his emphasis on female beauty, the movement came to be associated with paintings of long-haired women in flowing gowns, from scenes in classical mythology, medieval legend, or the Bible. Another founding member, William Holman Hunt (1827–1910), focused largely on biblical subjects and the writings of Walter Scott, Alfred Tennyson, John Keats, and William Shakespeare. His intellectual bent also shaped the way he worked: he drew on Renaissance fresco technique in his oil paintings. Founder John Everett Millais (1829–1896) was a child prodigy who was admitted to the prestigious school of the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of eleven. His early work with the Pre-Raphaelites was characterized by an almost photographic quality; in the 1860s he underwent a shift in style, utilizing bolder, more expressive brushwork. Millais went on to become a highly respected portraitist, a baronet, and president of the Royal Academy.
Decades later, “second-generation” Pre-Raphaelites and their followers turned increasingly to symbolism, but they still evoked an otherworldly beauty reminiscent of the poetry of Blake, Keats, or Tennyson. As Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) described his work, “I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream, of something that never was, never will be—in a light better than any light that ever shone—in a land which no one can define, or remember, only desire.”
The twenty-eight Pre-Raphaelite paintings selected for this book of postcards are by nine notable artists—Rossetti, Hunt, Millais, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893), Arthur Hughes (1832–1915), William Morris (1834–1896), Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys (1829–1904), and John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829–1908). They are in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London; the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England; the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas; and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. This book of postcards is being produced in conjunction with the exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848–1900, opening at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in February 2013.