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How British Artists Made Precision the Point

Courtesy National Gallery of Art
Model Jane Morris, shown in a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from 1868, is one example of the influence of Pre-Raphaelite artists and photographers in 19th-century Britain is the subject of a new exhibit.

The moral of “The Pre-Raphaelite Lens” is that photographers and painters influenced each other and managed to differentiate their work, even if their subjects were often the same.

“In their shared pursuit of a system of representation that was both accurate and truthful, painters and photographers fundamentally altered the terms of realist representation,” Waggoner said. “While photography changed the visual language of painting, Pre-Raphaelitism encouraged photographers to create artistic portraits and imaginative narrative images, as well as to relish their medium’s ability to render minute detail.”

Joseph Krakora, executive officer for development and external affairs at the National Gallery, praised Waggoner for her work in assembling the exhibition, which includes pieces from almost a dozen collections.

“This exhibition is hers,” he said. “It’s over four years of dedication and making it happen, and when you see it, there’s no question that her passion permeates every part of this exhibition.”

One image Waggoner presented, by artist O.G. Rejlander, encapsulates the way photography and painting blended together in the mid-1850s. In the picture, a baby has a paintbrush in his hand, and his arm is outstretched in an attempt to give the brush to an artist. The photograph is an allegory: The infant represents photography — new, undeveloped and full of potential — and the brush represents a new skill that all artists, especially Pre-Raphaelites, could embrace.

“The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848-1875” will be on display at the National Gallery of Art through Jan. 30.

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