Paris Pre-Raphaelites

Every movement has its genesis, as every flower its seed; the seed of the flower of Pre-Raphaelitism was photography,” wrote painter, poet, and Rossetti friend William Bell Scott in his memoir. Similarly, photographers looked to Pre-Raphaelites like Scott for visual strategies and subject matter – nature, literature, history, and religion “to secure the character and uses of High Art,” for photography, wrote Julia Margaret Cameron.


Julia Margaret Cameron, The Echo, 1868, © Musée d’Orsay 2011.

In the second half of the 19th century, during the heyday of Victorian England, the aesthetic principles of the Pre-Raphaelite painters were frequently echoed by the photographers of the time who aspired to be recognized as artists in their own right. Like the painters, they too were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin, the leading theoretician of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement. He advocated a return to nature and to craftsmanship, and championed a very precise, exalted view of medieval Gothic architecture whose high moral qualities he considered to be under threat from industrialization.

The Victorian Pre-Raphaelite photographers and painters knew each other. They tackled the same historical themes, inspired by Dante, Shakespeare, Byron and Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate. They also turned to modern life for their more socially aware and morally instructive subjects, with the result that many of the paintings by John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Maddox Brown, and the photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, Lewis Carroll and Henry Peach Robinson shared a common vision. This exhibition reveals the rich, productive dialogue that developed between painters and photographers.


John Robert Parsons, Jane Morris in Rossetti’s Garden, Summer 1865© Musée d’Orsay 2011.

This is a rare and exquisite photography and painting exhibit to see in Paris at the Musée d’Orsa on view 8 March – 29 May, 2011 an exhibition that considers the many ways that these two artistic phenomena informed and inspired each other. Some 100 photographs and 20 paintings and watercolors show the mutual influence of these first photographers (prints using the gorgeous albumen process) on Pre-Raphaelite painters, and vice-versa. They all aimed for the purity, sincerity, and clarity of detail found in medieval and early Renaissance art that preceded Raphael.

The most famous photographers include: Julia Margaret Cameron -who produced more than 1,000 photographs in 11 years from 1864 at age 48, until she moved to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) with her husband in 1875. Lewis Carroll, far more famous for writing Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland in 1865, than for photographing, or for teaching mathematics at Oxford, both under his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Also Roger Fenton, Henry Peach Robinson, and Oscar Gustave Rejlander. The painters include: Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, George Frederic Watts, John William Inchbold, and even Ruskin, who was among the lesser-known Pre-Raphaelite artists. And for the music lovers, there is also an exhibition paying tribute to the composer Gustav Mahler which runs concurrent with the Pre-Raphaelite show.