Must see: Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, Tate Britain, London SW

How Victorian rebels with a cause broke out from the past

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Can the Pre-Raphaelites be claimed for modernity? Are they not irredeemably Victorian, tame and locked into their own historical moment?

This show tries to persuade us otherwise, arguing that Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais were rebels with a cause. Hating academic painting, they wanted to reach back to art-making that emphasised flat surfaces, sharp outlines, bright colours and truth to nature.

The style was to be hyper-realistic: the artists looked afresh at nature and painted in vivid colours that almost shriek at us, throwing off the grim murk of the average history painting. True, much of their moralism and symbolism seems of its time; so do Rossetti's patronising paintings of women.

In the last rooms of the show, though, as Pre-Raphaelitism starts to incline towards Symbolism and even Surrealism, we begin to see the past linking hands with all that would come after it.

(020 7887 8888; to 13 Jan