Modern Painters, Old Masters The Art of Imitation from the Pre-Raphaelites to the First World War Elizabeth Prettejohn

Publication date:
02 May 2017
Paul Mellon Centre
288 pages: 254 x 190mm
130 color + 30 b-w illus.
Sales territories:


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. 

“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

"…a brilliantly realised excavation of the mindset of progressive Victorian painters."— Nicholas Tromans, Burlington Magazine

"a pleasure to read" — Susan Owens, TLS

"This is a finely written book, full of the kind of detail which would warrant further study." — Paul Flux, Albion Magazine Online

"a book to reference and return to" — Mark Jones, Pre-Raphaelite Society Review

"This book confirms Elizabeth Prettejohn as our foremost writer on Victorian art." — Andrew Saint, The Victorian