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The Best Art Books about the Pre-Raphaelites

Updated on August 20, 2014
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Katherine loves art history and visits art galleries and museums on a regular basis. She also writes exhibition reviews.

Introducing the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The first major retrospective exhibition about the Pre-Raphaelites travels to London, Washington, Moscow and Tokyo between 2012 and 2014.

Want to find out about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - and why they are so popular?

Or maybe you want to know more about one of individual PRB painters who became famous in the nineteenth century?

Below you can find the BEST ART BOOKS to provide the answers. For every book:

* the first link is to books from Amazon UK

* the second link is to books which link to

Paintings from the exhibition (sourced via Wikiemedia and/or the Google Art Project) are displayed between the books

Image: Crop of 'Ophelia' by John Everett Millais (public domain)>


Who were the Pre-Raphelites?

In 1848, a group of young English painters aged between 19 and 23 set out to reform British Painting and called themselves The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The group's original group included:

* John Everett Millais (1829 - 1896)

* William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)

* Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

They were rebelling against the academic stranglehold of the Royal Academy of Arts and, in particular:

* the conventions of Renaissance art - in favour of the honest purity of medieval art

* the "slosh" techniques taught by Sir Joshua Reynolds

They aimed to be "true to nature" and to paint only from observation. They literally took their canvases out to the countryside to paint and invented "plein air" painting some years ahead of the Impressionists.

This group had disbanded by 1853

Rossetti became associated with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and a type of female beauty which is now very much associated with the Pre-Raphaelites

Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) was asked by Rossetti to be his tutor. He was closely linked to the PRB artists although never actually a member of the PRB. Brown was also the main organiser of the Hogarth Club, a short lived replacement for the PRB which existed between 1858 and 1861.

The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites - by Elizabeth Prettejohn

Amazon readers rated this book 4.0 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews) | Like (2)

"The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites" is a classic introduction to the movement which has been successful in both hardback and paperback editions. The author argues that the movement rivals that of the Impressionists in France. She provides an overview of the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, their thoughts and their techniques.

The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites
The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites
Paperback: 304 pagesPublisher: Tate Publishing; New in Paperback edition (22 Feb 2007)Published in North America by Princeton Publishing

The Pre-Raphaelite Circle - by: Jan Marsh

This is a small slim volume however it provides an excellent guide to who's who in the Pre-Raphaelite Circle. It uses contemporary photographs of the Pre-Raphaelites and their models and friends to illustrate the set of biographies

You can also read about the Pre-Raphaelites on Jan Marsh's blog

The Pre-Raphaelite Circle
The Pre-Raphaelite Circle
Hardcover: 125 pagesIllustrations: 85, of which 65 in colourPublisher: National Portrait Gallery (November 1, 2011)

Pre-Raphaelites (Taschen Basic Genre Series) - by Heather Birchall

I've bought this book and I recommend this as the best introduction to specific paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites.


USA - 5.0 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews)

UK - 4.7 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)

As always with Taschen books this is a very reasonable price and offers excellent value for money. Not only that the production values are also excellent and it has excellent reproductions of the paintings.

Paperback: 96 pagesPublisher: Taschen GmbH (25 Mar 2010)


Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

This is the catalogue for the exhibition which has recently travelled the world. The "Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde" exhibition locations and dates are as follows:

* Tate Britain 12 September 2012 - 13 January 2013

* National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA (17 february - 19 May 2012)

* The Pushkin State Museum of Arts, Moscow (Summer 2013)

* Mori Art Center, Tokyo (Spring 2014)

Amazon readers in the UK rated this book 4.4 out of 5 stars (5 customer reviews)

The catalogue of the LAST exhibition at Tate Britain in 1984 became the authoritative text for study of the movement as a whole

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde
Paperback: 256 pagesPublisher: Tate Publishing (5 Sep 2012)

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde Exhibition

Tate Britain 12 September 2012 - 13 January 2013

The exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is at Tate Britain - prior to travelling to Washington DC and Moscow

This is my review of the exhibition Review - Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at Tate Britain

Articles about "Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900" in Washington DC - Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

EXHIBITION: "Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900"

The first major survey of the art of the Pre-Raphaelites to be shown in the United States features some 130 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative art objects.

WHERE: West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Main Floor

National Gallery of Art, West Building, Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest

WHEN: February 17-May 19, 2013

TIMES: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pre-Raphaelites - BY Jason Rosenfeld

This is a NEW book which provides an introduction to the Pre-Raphaelites - and commissioned by Tate Publishing for the retrospective exhibition

Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Introductions)
Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Introductions)
Paperback: 80 pagesPublisher: Tate Publishing (October 1, 2012)

"Our English Coasts" aka "Strayed Sheep" (1851) by William Holman Hunt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature - by Christopher Newall and Alison Staley

This is the catalogue of the exhibition of the same name held at Tate Britain in 2004

This book is the first for many years to take as its topic a review of the landscape in Pre-Raphaelite painting. Besides John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt it also covers a number of artists associated with the movement in later years - namely Ford Madox Brown, John Brett, George Price Boyce, William Davis, and Daniel Alexander Williamson.

Christopher Newal is the author of "Victorian Watercolors and is a writer and lecturer specializing in 19th-century British art. Allen Staley is the author of "The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape and is the Professor Emeritus of Art History at Columbia University.

Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature
Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature
Paperback: 290 pagesPublisher: Tate Publishing; 1st Edition edition (7 Feb 2004)


Reading the Pre-Raphaelites: Revised Edition - by Professor Tim Barringer

This is book is Tim Barringer, the Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University was written for the retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain which he also helped to curate.

This is the revised edition of this book. A lot of the content is information I was fortunate to hear in the introduction to the exhibition given by the curators at the preview.

Which means if you buy this book you are getting the latest and one of the most authoritative voices on this topic

(Note: The ratings for this book on Amazon all relate to an earlier edition and I think I detect an element of academic axe-grinding given the extreme variance of the reviews)

Reading the Pre-Raphaelites
Reading the Pre-Raphaelites
Paperback: 192 pagesPublisher: Yale University Press; Revised edition (April 24, 2012)


Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques - by Joyce H Townsend, Jacqueline Ridge, Stephen Hackney

Two reviewers on Amazon rated this book as 5.0 out of 5 stars. The third completely misunderstood the objective of the book and his rating is extremely misleading - this is NOT a "how to paint like the Pre-Raphaelites book!

This book provides an in-depth analysis of how the Pre-Raphaelites painted their paintings from the type of support they used, through pigments and brushes through to the processes they used

It was recommended to me by Alison Smith, the Lead Curator of 19th Century Critish art at Tate Britain as being the best explanation of the painting techniques of the Pre-Raphaelites

There's just a slight problem - it would seem somebody forgot to reorder a reprint! I'm really surrpised they would have an international exhibition about the Pre-Raphaelites and not make sure a new edition was available

If you can get hold of this book it will be a used edition - and they're rare!

[Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques]

Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques
Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques
Paperback: 208 pagesPublisher: Tate Publishing; First Edition edition (10 Feb 2004)


Pre-Raphaelite Drawing - by: Colin Cruise

Amazon review: 5.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)

This book is both comprehensive and superbly illustrated. It's the first time an art book has been devoted to the practice of drawing amongst the Pre-Raphaelites and this study that reveals how drawing was central to their activity when making art

Colin Cruise is a research lecturer at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, Wales.

Pre-Raphaelite Drawing
Pre-Raphaelite Drawing
Hardcover: 248 pagesPublisher: Thames & Hudson (April 1, 2011)


"Ophelia" (1851) by John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John Everett Millais - by Professor Jason Rosenfeld

Reviewers on Amazon rated this book 5.0 out of 5 stars (3 customer reviews) | Like (6)

The author of this book on John Millais is Jason Rosenfeld. He is the Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, New York. He is also one of the curators of the retrospective exhibition

[Also available from Amazon UK: John Everett Millais]

John Everett Millais
John Everett Millais
Hardcover: 256 pagesPublisher: Phaidon Press (August 27, 2012)


William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonne - by Dr. Judith Bronkhurst

This is THE definitive and comprehensive review of the paintings of William Holman Hunt - one of the three key artists of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. It attracted some very glowing reviews on publication from prestigious publications in the art world

If your jaw has dropped at the price, it's not at all unusual for a Catalogue Raisonne to be expensive

William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonne
William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonne
Hardcover: 800 pagesPublisher: Yale University Press (25 July 2006)

"The Hireling Shepherd"(1851) byWilliam Holman Hunt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Holman Hunt: Painter, Painting, Paint - by Carol Jacobi

Reviewers on Amazon rated this book 4.0 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews)

If you don't want the weight or price of the Catalogue Raisonne published in the same year, this monograph provides a more accessible account of William Holman Hunt and his paintings. That said it's still an academic text written for academics. It provides evidence of extensive and expert research as a basis for the conclusions drawn about his character, his concerns and priorities and the way he tested these through paintings and his use of paint.

William Holman Hunt: Painter, painting, paint
William Holman Hunt: Painter, painting, paint
Hardcover: 288 pagesPublisher: Manchester University Press; illustrated edition edition (30 Oct 2006)


Dante Gabriel Rossetti - by Lisa Tickner (British Artists Series)

Many of you will be familiar with the British Artists series of books which provide an authoritative introduction to the life and works of British Artists for a very economical price. This is the volume relating to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Tate British Artists: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Tate British Artists: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Paperback: 80 pagesPublisher: Tate Publishing (28 Oct 2003)

Manna Vanna by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


"Work" by Ford Madox Brown at Wikimedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer - by Julian Treuherz

Amazon reviews: 4.7 out of 5 stars (3 customer reviews) Like (4)

This is the book to read if you are a Ford Madox Ford fan - and I'm one of them!

This is the catalogue of the recent exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery - Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer (24 September 2011 - 29 January 2012). The paintings of Ford Madox Brown are strongly associated with Manchester Art Gallery which has a good collection of them - including "Work" which is probably one of his most famous works.

This book considers Ford Madox Brown from different perspectives and new research:

* as a pioneer of pre-raphaelite painting - he influenced without being a member of the original group

* the character of the man - and how this influenced his painting

* his humour - his paintings include jokes and amusements for those who spot them

* his connections with Manchester

The paintings in this book are grouped according to the themes of the exhibition

* The Artist and his family - who he frequently used as a models for his portrait studies

* The early period - covering his art training and submission of murals for the Houses of Parliament

* The change of direction - to bright evenly lit paintings after a trip to Europe where he saw early Italian art and the paintings of Holbein and the German Nazarene group.

* The draughtsman - focusing on his practice of making numerous pencil studies for his paintings

* The landscape painter - covering his approach to painting landscapes with reference to specific paintings

* The painter of modern life - he documented and recorded contemporary Victorian life and highlighted aspects which characterised the times he lived in

* The storyteller - his paintings include ones which were based on stories in literature or the bible

* The portrait painter - his portraits tended to be of people he liked - his family and friends. Occasionally he did commissioned portraits

* The designer - Ford was one of the original partners in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, founded in 1861. He contributed designs for stained glass and furniture

* The Manchester period - In 1878, the Corporation of Manchester commissioned Brown to paint murals of the history of Manchester in the new

Town Hall. He also contributed to the Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition held in 1887 and his paintings were purchased by Manhcester Art Gallery.

(Note: For those interested in these things Ford Madox Brown is the grandfather of Ford Madox Ford the author)

Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer
Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer
Hardcover: 336 pagesPublisher: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd (30 Sep 2011)

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