Nineteenth century Classical art was deeply formulaic; there were catalogues of poses, and a set of rules to follow. As John Ruskin – a respected art critic of the time described it:
"We begin by telling the youth of fifteen or sixteen that Nature is full of faults, and that he is to improve her; but that Raphael is perfection, and that the more he copies Raphael the better; that after much copying of Raphael, he is to try what he can do himself in a Raphaelesque, but yet original manner: that is to say, he is to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something is to be properly subjected to Raphaelesque rules, is to have a principal light occupying one seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one third of the same; that no two people's heads in the picture are to be turned the same way, and that all the personages represented are to have ideal beauty of the highest order...".
In response to this prescribed brand of elitist art the Pre – Raphaelite brotherhood was formed. This was an all male group who dedicated themselves to painting out of those rules. Their ideas were that for every scene a real unidealised landscape or interior should be painted, that every figure should be based on a real model with their real proportions, that the figures should be grouped without reference to any artistic arrangement, and that they should paint worthy subjects.
The Royal Academy would not acknowledge or display their work, as it didn’t adhere to the Academy’s rules.
A notable Pre-Raphaelite was Dante Gabriel Rossetti – the son of an Italian refugee, and the brother of a future famous poetess. Rossetti was a poet and artist, and his full name was Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti. He was educated at King’s College and then went to Carey’s Art Academy, where he obtained admission in 1845 to the RA Schools.
However, he left the RA Schools disgusted at their teaching methods, which he considered to be ‘hidebound’ and ‘reactionary’. Rossetti then spent a short time studying the work of Ford Madox Brown. Rossetti wedded one of his models, whom he loved in a strange way. He desired an ‘unattainable Goddess’, and one time he confessed to her that his love for her would be greatly increased if she were to die. She took him at his word and killed herself with a Laudanum overdose.
Other popular Pre-Raphaelite were Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896), and John Ruskin.
The pre-raphaelites disliked the industrial revolution as it embodied that which they despised: formulaic and identical art. Many members of the brotherhood had friendships/ relationships with people in the Arts and Crafts movement, or even were a part of the arts and crafts movement – the movement set up in reaction to the industrial revolution.