John Ruskin, the great guru of Victorian artistic culture and the first serious art critic, wrote of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that 'they would lay the foundation of a school of art nobler than the world has seen for 300 years'. This may seem a highly exalted estimate of a small group of young men scarcely out of their teens, an association which lasted only a few years. Although the names of a number of other painters have been subsequently attached to the group, the Brotherhood, as they call themselves, in fact consisted of only seven members of which only three were significant painters and which makes Ruskin's view even more surprising. However, in retrospect, the group has acquired a reputation and importance which, if it does not quite fulfill Ruskin's evaluation at the present time, can nevertheless be regarded as an important and revolutionary movement.
The leaders of the Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt, Sir John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti are of such different character and technical accomplishment, their followers of such variety, and their impact so dramatic that the story of the whole movement from its beginnings in the Schools of the Royal Academy in London to the 'bohemianism' of their later lives remains fascinating and entertaining.
This examination follows the course of the movement from the exclusivity of the Brotherhood to the eventual artistic and public lives of its members towards the end of Queen Victoria's reign. It includes examples of the work of most of the associated figures and analyses their achievements.
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