Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours

The poetry of drawing

The most comprehensive exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings ever staged in Australia.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), Study of Jane Morris for ‘Mnemosyne’ 1876, pastel, private collection © private collection and Christie’s Images Ltd, 2010
Edward Robert Hughes (1851–1914), 'Oh, what’s that in the hollow …’ 1893, watercolour © Royal Watercolour Society

The most comprehensive exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings ever staged in Australia will open at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in June.

Organised by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), this exhibition explores the vital role played by drawing in the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. BMAG houses one of the finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and holds the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite drawings in the world.

Works from Birmingham form the basis of the exhibition, but there are also key loans from public and private lenders in Britain.

The poetry of drawing presents watercolours as well as works in pen and ink and pencil by the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt; their mentor John Ruskin, and the second wave of Pre-Raphaelites such as Edward Burne-Jones, Frederick Sandys and Simeon Solomon. It also shows the influence that Pre-Raphaelite drawing had upon William Morris and the designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was formed in London in 1848 when a group of talented young art students banded together with the aim of changing the course of British art. These artists – Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti – were joined by four others: Rossetti’s younger brother, William Michael, the painter James Collinson, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, and the writer Frederic George Stephens. These individuals saw themselves as nothing less than revolutionaries. None was older than 23 and Millais was only 19. They were disaffected by the unoriginal training at the Royal Academy Schools. Taking as their guiding principle the idea of depicting a given subject with seriousness, sincerity and an unswerving fidelity to nature, the PRB looked back to the example of early Italian painting (pre-Raphael) as their model.

From the very beginning drawing was a core activity of the PRB. This exhibition features a number of drawings related to some of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite compositions such as Millais’ Ophelia 1852 (Tate), the painting for which Elizabeth Siddal famously posed lying in a bath of water. There are five preparatory drawings by Ford Madox Brown for his most ambitious picture, Chaucer at the Court of Edward III 1847-51.This painting was one of the very first works to be purchased by the newly established Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1876.

History, religion and literature were the PRB’s staple sources. Although their works often have a medievalist flavour, the PRB was also concerned with the representation of modern life.

The exhibition includes a section on portraits and caricatures, providing an insight into the Pre-Raphaelites’ relationships with their fellow artists, friends and lovers. Other sections are devoted to the role of the Pre-Raphaelites as illustrators of books and journals. There are also meticulously detailed images of the natural world.

Pre-Raphaelitism became increasingly concerned with the applied arts after Burne-Jones helped William Morris set up the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co in 1861. Artists became involved in the design of furniture, stained glass, fabrics, ceramics and jewellery; examples of which will be part of this exhibition.

'Marsh is delighted to be part of what will be a truly rich and unique collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. We are so pleased that through our sponsorship – and in our first year as a principal sponsor and risk and insurance partner of the Gallery – we are helping to bring to Australians the opportunity to experience the vivid form of artistic expression that the Pre-Raphaelite artists are known for. The exhibition will undoubtedly complement the Gallery’s marvellous program this year.’ – John Clayton, Region Head, Pacific & CEO, Australia

Principal sponsor

On view
18 Jun – 4 Sep 2011
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney

$10.00, $8.00 concession

Media contact

Susanne Briggs
Tel 02 9225 1791
Mob 0412 268 320