The Pre Raphaelite Landscape

I was fortunate in being able to attend a gallery talk at the British Museum on the Pre Raphaelite landscape. This was as part of their Places of the mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850–1950 exhibition. The talk was given by a member of the Prints Department at the Museum.


The talk started with John Ruskin and his belief in ‘truth to nature’. Ruskin made many,  many sketches of nature, in fact the more he drew from nature the more he loved it. Ruskin encouraged his students to go outdoors to paint, not to be professional painters but to be better people!


John Millais and Holman Hunt took the advice and started to paint in oils directly outdoors – rather than paint from sketches in the studio. They mainly used their landscape as a background for their works whereas Millais’ brother William painted just the landscape and mainly in watercolour. He use very bright colours (yellows and indigo) and painted very great detail using a stippling technique. Indeed Pre Raphaelite work was characterised by very bright colours and great attention to detail. As evidence of this the speaker referred to W H Millais’ Scottish Farm.


The talk touched on the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones, and there were a couple of examples of their work in the exhibition. The speaker considered that the work of these two artists was not about ‘creating a true picture but about creating an atmosphere’. It was interesting though to see their use of landscapes within their pictures, for example Rosetti’s Arthur’s Tomb 1855.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Arthur's Tomb, 1855, Watercolour, with bodycolour and graphite. 
© The Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)


We then moved on to the work of George Price Boyce who was an architect but who gave it all up to become a landscape artist. Apparently, he always took notes about the changing light conditions.


From there we moved to Alfred William Hunt who was one of the artists for whom truth to nature was most important to his painting. He regarded it is fundamental to show the truth as this was to show God’s desire. He would take binoculars on his trips to see natural detail not necessarily visible to the human eye. He painted great detail but also achieved a great atmospheric feel to his paintings. He always finished his watercolours in the studios with a stippling technique.It was a fascinating talk that taught me a lot about some of the artists that were on the fringes of the Pre-Raphaelite circle and whose work I was not very familiar with.


The Greta at Rokeby. Alfred William Hunt (1830-1896). c. 1863. Watercolour on paper. 246 x 344 mm (10 3/8 x 14 3/16 inches) You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art and and the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway (2) and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.

I have now enrolled on my next OCA module which is Photography 2: Landscape. This talk seems to have very neatly bridged the two courses, completing the History of Art module where I was looking in detail at the Pre-Raphaelites; and starting a Landscape course