"Reviews: What is Pre-Raphaelitism?" Art Journal 18 (Apr. 1856), 127.

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What is Pre-Raphaelitism? By John Ballantyne, A.R.S.A. Published by W. Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London.

After reading this pamphlet through very attentively, we do not seem to have arrived at any satisfactory solution of the question indicated in the title: Mr. Ballantyne writes sensibly upon certain characteristics of Art, but he has not answered his own query; we object only to the title given to his work, for he rather explains what Pre-Raphaelitism is not, than what it is. Assuming Mr. Ruskin’s definition to be correct, that it is "the close study and imitation of nature," Mr. Ballantyne would class Wilkie, Mulready, and others with the Pre-Raphaelites, except for the absence of those peculiarities in which the latter indulge; and he is perfectly right in doing so. There is no doubt that the painters anterior to Raphael studied nature closely, but their ignorance of the other essentials of a true and graceful representation of what is natural, renders their pictures the very reverse of agreeable, and far more of what is beautiful: they wanted, in fact, the science of Art to aid them to interpret aright what nature revealed to them. We may well doubt whether Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Francia, Perugino, and other predecessors of Raphael would have painted as they did, if they had been born after the great master instead of before him; they would have been the first to recognise and imitate his truth, elegance, and beauty. Mr. Ballantyne has a thrust, a very gentle one, however, at Mr. Ruskin, for his advocacy of the claims of their modern followers, who, we are glad to find, are fast turning from the error of their ways into a more rational and living style. Mr. Ballantyne’s pamphlet is worth perusal, as a dissertation upon true and false styles.

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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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