In 1855, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, student friends at Oxford, decided to abandon their theological studies and become artists. They turned for guidance to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a leader of the recently disbanded Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848–1853), a group that galvanized British painting by rejecting academic convention and sought to emulate the vividness and sincerity of art from before the time of Raphael.
The creative dialogue between Burne-Jones, Morris, and Rossetti was remarkable for its intensity, productivity, and duration, and stimulated fresh goals and styles that defined the second wave of Pre-Raphaelite art, in the key decades from the 1860s through the 1890s.
Over the past century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has assembled a modest, yet varied and surprisingly cohesive group of objects representing the accomplishments of this extraordinary trio and their circle. The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design will feature approximately 30 objects from across the Museum—including paintings, drawings, furniture, textiles, stained glass, and illustrated books—highlighting this key period, when the Pre-Raphaelite vision was adapted and transformed. Select loans from private collections will enhance the presentation.
Works by Burne-Jones will anchor the exhibition. His masterpiece The Love Song (1868–77), the Metropolitan Museum’s sole major Pre-Raphaelite painting, will be displayed along with an early painted cabinet from 1861 and a late tapestry from 1898, both products of Burne-Jones’s long, fruitful collaboration with Morris. These will be united for the first time, along with supporting works by artists ranging from Ford Madox Brown to Aubrey Beardsley and Julia Margaret Cameron, revealing the enduring impact of Pre-Raphaelite ideals as they were taken up by others and developed across a range of media.
The exhibition will demonstrate the shared reverence for the past and for beauty that stimulated such diverse endeavors among these artists and their circle as Rossetti’s depiction of sensuous model-muses in poetic guise; Burne-Jones’s evocation of the lofty themes of romance, music, and spirituality; and Morris & Company’s production of decorative works inspired by medieval craft traditions. Painting, design, and, notably, drawing—a lynchpin of the group’s practice—were pursued with equal fervor as a means to restore integrity to the arts.
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