Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875

National Gallery of Art
October 31, 2010–January 30, 2011

A few years after the discovery of photography was announced in 1839, the British art critic John Ruskin named it "the most marvelous invention of the century." Making permanent what the eye saw fleetingly, the new technology seemed an almost magical revelation.

As photography gained a foothold in the 1840s, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These young painters and their followers wished to return to the purity, sincerity, and clarity of detail found in medieval and early Renaissance art that preceded Raphael (1483–1520). But they were also spurred on by the possibilities of the new medium, which could capture every nuance of nature. Indeed, Pre-Raphaelite artists painted with such precision that some critics accused them of copying photographs.

Many photographers in turn looked to the language of Pre-Raphaelite painting in an effort to establish their nascent medium as a fine art. Both photographers and painters—many of whom knew one another—drew inspiration directly from nature. In choosing subjects, they also mined literature, history, and religion, as well as modern life. Together they developed a shared vocabulary that is explored in this exhibition through the genres of landscape, narrative subjects, and portraiture.


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