“The Sex Pistols of 1850s art” is the hook being used by the Art Gallery of Western Australia to promote this exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings from the Tate collection (until 28 September). Beyond idle speculation as to whether Dante Gabriel Rossetti stands for Johnny Rotten or John Ruskin for Malcom Mclaren, this flip comparison may reflect the predictable art-world terror at the prospect of marketing unfashionable 19th-century painting. Not always so in Australia. Indeed, over eight days in 1906, 106,000 people—nearly half the population of Perth—came to the Art Gallery of Western Australia to see Holman Hunt’s “Light of the world”. Despite the rumble they caused among their contemporaries in the mid-19th century, the concerns of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are far removed from today’s cultural discourse, and their appeal lies more in their stylisation, than in their rebelliousness. This is, nevertheless, a substantial show with famous paintings such Rossetti’s “Prosperine”, 1874 (left), among the 70 featured works, as well as some more obscure but no less interesting items.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The pre-Raphaelite dream, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth'