Modern Painters, Old Masters

The Art of Imitation from the Pre-Raphaelites to the First World War

Elizabeth Prettejohn

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June 6, 2017
288 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
130 color + 30 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300222753
Hardcover

Published in association with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

With the rise of museums in the 19th century, including the formation in 1824 of the National Gallery in London, as well as the proliferation of widely available published reproductions, the art of the past became visible and accessible in Victorian England as never before. Inspired by the work of Sandro Botticelli, Jan van Eyck, Diego Velázquez, and others, British artists elevated contemporary art to new heights through a creative process that emphasized imitation and emulation. Elizabeth Prettejohn analyzes the ways in which the Old Masters were interpreted by critics, curators, and scholars, and argues that Victorian artists were, paradoxically, at their most original when they imitated the Old Masters most faithfully.  Covering the arc of Victorian art from the Pre-Raphaelites through to the early modernists, this volume traces the ways in which artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Orpen engaged with the art of the past and produced some of the greatest art of the later 19th century. 

Elizabeth Prettejohn is professor of history of art at the University of York. 

“Modern Painters, Old Masters argues persuasively that artists have succeeded in reimagining earlier work without engaging in aggressive competition . . . Prettejohn suggests that nineteenth-century painters had more than one way of overturning established hierarchies. . . . [An] elegant book.”—Ruth Bernard Yeazell, New York Review of Books

 “This is not only an important book, full of intelligent writing and thoughtful visual analysis, but a necessary venture into the always-confusing domain of imitation, however defined.” —Paul Duro, Art History

“Many art historians have emphasised the ways in which the Pre-Raphaelites imitated the art of the past. Prettejohn not only looks again at the nature of this imitation but demonstrates how it enabled them to contribute to the re-evaluation of that art.” —Nicholas Penny, London Review of Books
Frederic Leighton
Antiquity, Renaissance, Modernity

Edited by Tim Barringer and Elizabeth Prettejohn

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Art for Art's Sake
Aestheticism in Victorian Painting

Elizabeth Prettejohn

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