The Met Reveals Its Pre-Raphaelites. Although New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is renowned for its outstanding collections and exhibitions of 19th-century European art. One subset of that field that has gone comparatively unnoticed there is Pre-Raphaelitism. Founded in London in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood comprised seven young artists and writers who prioritized the depiction of Romantic narratives in an archaizing style. With bright coloring, heartfelt intensity. And meticulous detail that harked back to the era immediately before Raphael flourished (thus their name). The group had disbanded by 1853, promptly stimulating a second generation of artists who expanded the movement’s scope. And more effectively transmitted its aesthetic around the world over the next four decades.
It was, however, contemporary French art that captivated most of New York’s patrons and curators, who generally ignored new art coming from England, including Pre-Raphaelitism.
Complementing this show is a display of prints by the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates, though this is on view only through July 14 because its contents are sensitive to light, and so might fade if exhibited any longer.
In 1855, young Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris decided to leave their studies and become artists. They turned to Rossetti for advice, who developed with them a broader collaborative spirit among painters, craftsmen, poets, and musicians. This more “Aesthetic” phase of Pre-Raphaelitism is notable for the prestige and commercial success it found worldwide, mainly through a decorating firm founded in 1861, Morris & Co. (Through July 20, a third display — of that firm’s textiles and wallpapers — is on view just outside the Met’s Ratti Textile Center.)
The Love Song was purchased by the Met after World War II, when almost no one wanted Victorian art. Yet the exhibition reveals that the museum’s first acquisitions in this field were actually made much earlier by the Englishman Roger Fry. Who served briefly as curator of paintings, and then as special adviser, between 1906 and 1910.
In the 1920s, the museum’s department of decorative arts obtained the aforementioned cabinet, as well as ceramics, textiles, wallpapers, and tapestries bought directly from Morris & Co., which was still in business then. The exhibition brings the Met’s collecting story right up to date with a drawing of an Old Testament subject by Simeon Solomon, a disciple of Rossetti; this was donated in 2002 by the Met’s own curator, James David Draper. Even more recently arrived is an early Rossetti drawing given by Etheleen Staley and her husband. Allen, who taught Pre-Raphaelitism and other Victorian art topics at Columbia University when few other U.S. scholars cared.
In 1998, the Met presented a Burne-Jones retrospective developed in concert with Paris’s Musée d’Orsay and England’s Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. No other Pre-Raphaelite exhibition has ever been held there, until now. And it is a particular delight to compare the current trio of shows with the Met’s superb collections of medieval and Renaissance art. The very kind of imagery that inspired the Brotherhood in the first place.
“We were delighted with how artworks, normally scattered across the collection, complement one another so effectively when brought together in a single gallery. A range of fascinating visual dialogues take place that underscore how the close friendship between Rossetti,
Burne-Jones, and Morris both encouraged individual achievement and dissolved traditional distinctions between painting, drawing. And the decorative arts.”- says associate curator of European sculpture and decorative arts.