The exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites: The Victorian Avant-Garde”


Between 11 June and 13 October, 2013, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow together with the support of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation, hosted the “Pre-Raphaelites: The Victorian Avant-Garde” exhibition. Russian art lovers were able to enjoy a collection of works by the British artists who, in the middle of the 19th century, boldly rejected established academic principles in the name of artistic truth and turned to Pre-Raphaelite natural beauty and objectivity.

The agreement to hold this exhibition was signed in November 2011, by the Director of the State Pushkin Museum Irina Antonova, the Director of the Tate Britain in London, Penelope Curtis, the Director of the British Council in Russia, the Cultural Counsellor of the British Embassy, Paul de Quincey, and the Founder of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation Alisher Usmanov.

The exhibition included paintings and applied art, and consisted of more than 80 works from museums and private collections in the US and the UK, including the key masterpieces from the Tate collection; the paintings, Ophelia and Mariana by John Everett Millais, as well as Beloved and Proserpina by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites: The Victorian Avant-Garde” was also marked by an extensive educational program for children and adults as well as a unique literary project, the publication of a book, The Poetic World of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The idea to bring the Pre-Raphaelites to Moscow came about in 2008, when Alisher Usmanov sponsored an exhibition of William Turner in the Pushkin Museum — a project which enjoyed huge success in the capital. The organisation of the Pre-Raphaelites project demanded serious investment and took almost five years. According to the Director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, the museum staff had been dreaming about such an exhibition for the past 2 decades, and only now, with the support of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation, was it made possible.

It was no accident that the title of the exhibition included the words “avant-garde”: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, formed in the late 1840s, rejected the official standards of artistic trends and criticised the academic style of the Royal Academy of Arts. The Pre-Raphaelites strongly believed that modern art was overly regulated and would soon come to a standstill, and therefore dedicated themselves to the revival of the sincerity and simplicity of the era “before Raphael”, who, in their opinion, was the very founder of the academic approach to art. The Pre-Raphaelites painted only from natural subjects, carefully studied and researched every historical detail of their planned compositions, pondered the role of women in society, and raised various social issues in their work. Particular attention was paid to the craft of painting itself; by combining traditional techniques and inventing new ones, Pre-Raphaelites experimented with furniture design, interior decoration and book graphics. The innovations of the Pre-Raphaelites challenged the world of art, anticipating French Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

The Pre-Raphaelites also had a serious impact on Russian art: their ideas were very close to those of the masters of the Russian Silver Age, Vrubel, Vasnetsov and others.

A showcase of one of the brightest pages in the history of British art became an important event in the cultural life of Moscow in 2013. Due to the huge popularity of the exhibition, it was extended by two additional weeks. The exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites: The Victorian Avant-Garde” lasted 18 weeks and in that time saw record numbers of visitors, around 422,600.