About the Collection

The Pre-Raphaelite Collection

Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery has an unrivalled collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. This includes some 2000 fine and decorative art works ranging from oil paintings, tapestries, drawings, sketchbooks, stained glass and related cartoons, to prints, illustrated books, watercolours, ceramics, and archive material. The scope of this public collection has made Birmingham a central resource for the study of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt – as well as the slightly older Ford Madox Brown and the Birmingham-born Edward Burne-Jones.

Further depth and context is provided by important holdings of associated artists such as Frederick Sandys, Arthur Hughes and Simeon Solomon, who extended the Pre-Raphaelite tradition in the second half of the nineteenth century. It also includes research on more recent acquisitions of less familiar areas, such as the work of women artists who contributed to Pre-Raphaelitism.

William Holman Hunt - Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A Brief History of the Pre-Raphaelite Collection at Birmingham

The opening of the Museum in 1885 became the focus for a new generation of patrons and collections in the city who began to promote the acquisition of a near contemporary Pre-Raphaelite Collection. This saw industrialists and local politicians like William Kenrick (1831-1919) and John Throgmorton Middlemore (1844-1925) respectively donated Millais’s The Blind Girl and Holman Hunt’s The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple in 1891 and 1896.

This ambitious but relatively cautious patronage was transformed by the negotiating skills of the first keeper/director of the museum, Whitworth Wallis and solicitor J R Holliday. Through the securing of funds through public subscription, over 1000 drawings were purchased from the artist and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919) in 1903 and 1906. This remarkable acquisition reveals drawing to be central to the Pre-Raphaelite vision and method of working.

Today works from the Birmingham collection are regularly loaned to exhibitions throughout Britain and abroad, while the Museum organises changing displays and special exhibitions around the Pre-Raphaelites, and provides visitors with access to the works on paper collection through the Print Room service. The civic vision that originally created this public resource continues in the launch of a digitised web site dedicated to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

La Donna Della Finesta (the Lady of Pity) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Morgan-le-Fey by Frederick Sandys