Survey 4 – Steam and the Speed of Light & the Brotherhood that Reformed 1850’s Art

Lecture Summary

Today’s lecture, “Steam and the Speed of Light” focused on the years 1750-1850 encompassed a massive time period of political and industrial revolutions, and inmmense scientific progress. Our group was focusing in art and the effects of the industrial revolution were imminent. As technology allowed for production to increase, communserum increased as it became more and more affordable. This created an explosion in the arts, especially in fonts as the mass production of posters became more and more common. Examples of this include the invention of fat-face typefaces (by Robert Thorne), Slab serif or “egyptian” typeface (by Vincent Vincent Figgins) and Sans Serif or “gothic” (by Adrian Frutige). Similarity, the first Christmas cards were mass produced in this time. However, our group was more interested in the fine arts of the time. For example, the Romantic period, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Ukiyo-e. In particularly we are interested in dissecting the differences and similarities between these movements of art. Specifically, the techniques they used, their philosophies, and influences.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a movement of art which lasted between the years 1850 and 1854. Refers to a group of artists who set out to reform the art world, for what they thought was the better. It began as a secret society which later grew more recognition. Originally began with only three members, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Later on, the brotherhood grew to include 4 other artists. The selection process they used is largely a mystery, especially considering the mismatched group they ended up with. This group included a painter who did not appear to support any of their philosophies (James Collision, he is largely believed to have been accepted due to his engagement to Rossetti’s sister, Christina), a sculptor (Thomas Woolner) and two “non-practicing artists” (Frederic George Stephens and William Michael Rossetti, although it should be noted that the two went on to become art critics).

The group can be seen as the antithesis of the teachings of the Royal Academy and Victorian Genre Paintings. At the time, The Royal Academy strongly favoured styles of the Old Masters, such as their characteristic use of strong lighting and dark shadows (known as “chiaroscuro”). The goal of genre painting was to render the daily lives of individuals (who were commonly not of social importance).The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood rejected these ideas, instead they cultivated a more serious earnest philosophy to artwork. It was a philosophy which was largely inspired by the works of John Ruskin, an art critic (who would later help popularize their work) which is best summed up by the quote “To go to the nature in all singleness of heart…rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing”. The Pre-Raphaelites stood in revolt against the “triviality” of genre paintings, and believed that art should be be limited to serious subjects. The works of art prior to the renaissance, particularly Raphael (Thus the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), especially 15th Century Flemish artists, acted as a basis of inspiration for their own works. This influence is clear, as their style was defined by simple linework and large areas of canvas rendered with brilliant colour, all render with immense detail and precision. 

Ophelia by John Everett Millais is an excellent example of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s usage of literature as a source of inspiration, as well as the immense detail which the style required. (photo taken from

Themes of death and love were among their favourite to depict, and they heavily drew off from literature. In the group’s beginning, religious scenes such as biblical stories were common themes. However, Arthurian legends, Shakespeare’s plays, and medieval romances were also sources of inspiration.


However, after some trials and tribulations (ruthless criticism from their first exhibit in 1850 and then praise from the art critic John Ruskin)the movement began to dissolve, with Woolner immigration to Australia (1852), and Hunt’s trip to the Holy Land in order to better paint religious scenes. The movement was formally ended when Millais to the appointed to Royal Academy in 1853.

William Holman Hunt - A Converted British Family.jpg
A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest by William Holman Hunt (photo taken from
John Everett Millais - Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') - Google Art Project.jpg
John Everett’s Millais’s Christ in the House of his Parents (photo taken from

(These two paintings were shown to the Royal Academy among others  in 1849, and were ruthlessly criticised by Charles Dickens, who claimed they more clearly  resembled a medieval manuscript than art. In response, Collinson resigned and Rossetti decided to no longer publicity exhibit his work.)

The movement lasted only five years, yet its impact can not be understated. Its seven members all became successful in an industry which first ruthless criticized their work. Additionally, its existence laid the foundation for other art movements. For example, it was one of the first groups to consider painting outside in nature to fully capture the details that was necessary for the realism they wanted to achieve. This was a milestone in art, and paved the road for other art movements to build upon. Another milestone technique they perfected was the

And in the end, Millais was appointed to the Royal Academy, which means that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did indeed achieve its goal ; to reform art and its philosophy.  

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