Early Pre-Raphaelite drawing style

The development of Pre-Raphaelitism

A few drawings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists in National Museums Liverpool's collections date from before the Brotherhood was founded. They show the origins of the new style.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement falls into two phases. Early Pre-Raphaelite works, between 1848 and about 1854, display precision and detail, based on realistic observation of specific things and places. The paintings of this period are very brightly coloured.

The outline style

The young Pre-Raphaelites would have been taught to draw using a strongly shaded style, to convey solid form. But drawings made of simple outlines were also popular in the 1840s. The English sculptor John Flaxman had published books of outline drawings in the 18th century and books of outline illustrations by German artists made the style very fashionable again.

The Millais drawings in this section may have been made for a student drawing club, the Cyclographic Society. Members circulated their drawings to each other for criticism and discussion.

The use of outline contributed to the clarity of line seen in early Pre-Raphaelite paintings such as Isabella by Millais, from the Walker Art Gallery collection. An ink study for Isabella is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A looser later style

Late Pre-Raphaelite works, between the mid 1850s and 1880s, are looser and more generalised, depicting imaginary scenes and poetical concepts. They are more muted in colour. Younger artists, notably Burne-Jones, entered the Pre-Raphaelite circle during this period. Of the original brothers only Holman Hunt remained true to the detailed and brightly coloured style in the later period.

Gallery of early works