The Pre-Raphaelites: One of the Most Important Artistic Movements of the 19th Century

Steve Newman Writer
8 min readJul 3, 2018

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has one of the Finest Pre-Raphaelite Collections in the world…

I last visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery a year before Covid and the lockdown, the interior housekeeping was poor, with the building, inside and out, in dire need of repair and decorating. I know the city council were strapped for cash at the time but now they cannot allow this beautiful old building, and its galleries, to disintegrate any further. It certainly didn’t look as good as the photograph below.

Anyway, I’d come to see the Pre-Raphaelites, and once I’d made my way past a couple of closed galleries, I found what I was looking for, and all my disappointment about the state of the building fell away. I was amongst friends.

Birmingham has one of the finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world, most especially the work of William Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown (who was never an official member of the PRB) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood — which was made up of seven original members, most notably Hunt, Rossetti, and John Everett Millais — was formed in 1848 at 83 Gower Street, London, when, as A.N. Wilson describes: “…a group of art students vowed ‘to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.’…” which they did in abundance, creating one of the most powerful art movements of the 19th century, only eclipsed by the Impressionists a few decades later. But there can be no question that the great Impressionist, Manet, was certainly influenced by Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown, whose paintings, Work and The Last of England, are the stars of Birmingham.

Work is an extraordinary painting that, in fine and explicit detail is almost cinematic in its breadth, depth, exquisite colouring and, not least, its social, personal and political content and comment. As Wilson points out in his book, The Victorians, sewage and drainage provided “… the inspiration for one of Victorian arts most self-conscious efforts to make a social comment in paint.”