1857 Pre-Raphaelite Art Exhibit in Russell Square

In May of 1857, the same month that the Moxon Tennyson was first published, Pre-Raphaelitism (as an artistic movement) continued to have a significant impact on the art being shared with larger Victorian Britain. With the illustrations for the Moxon Tennyson, woodblock engraving and illustrations became largely popular, and the Pre-Raphaelites used this medium in order to demonstrate “the poetic potential [of wood-engraved image] for a pictorial response to literature.” Pre-Raphaelite art had already experienced its first phase of being largely popular, but its second phase was underway during the same period of the Long Vacation of 1857, with the painting of the Oxford Union Debating Hall murals. These murals featured Arthurian themes also noticeable within the various contents of the Moxon Tennyson, especially when considering the illustrations of The Lady of Shallot. The second wave of the popularity of Pre-Raphaelite art introduced greater Victorian Britain to Pre-Raphaelite themes, which influenced societies perception of art greatly in 1857. This second wave allowed for Pre-Raphaelite artists to create illustrations of their own accord, but these images were often overseen by the wood engravers; Despite the censorship, popular Pre-Raphaelite artists such as William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti found purpose in creating symbolic images to represent a text. These artists both shocked and surprised greater Victorian Britain with the connotations the images held, yet society was so fascinated by them that the Pre-Raphaelite artists, in the midst of their second wave, were able to open a month-long exhibit to showcase their art in Russell Square. The exhibit went on from May 25 – June 25, 1857 and featured many of the original images intended for the publication of the Moxon Tennyson, and although Pre-Raphaelite art blurred the distinctions of being defined, the exhibit was classified as a work of fine art.

Related Articles: Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, “The Moxon Tennyson as Textual Event: 1857, Wood Engraving, and Visual Culture”

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

25 May 1857 to 25 Jun