Victorian Radicals

From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts + Crafts Movement

JUN 13 – SEP 8 2019


Rebellious artists and designers search for beauty in an age of industry in Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement. These artists challenged the new industrial world and looked to the art of the past for inspiration, reasserting the value of the handmade over the dehumanizing sterility of mass production in 19th-century England. Victorian Radicals presents an unprecedented 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures, stained glass, jewelry, textiles, and decorative arts—many never before exhibited outside of the United Kingdom. See vibrant works by the major figures associated with the subversive Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the later Arts & Crafts Movement.

As industrialization brought sweeping changes to British life, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The young artists were reacting to the traditional training methods of the Royal Academy of Arts, which they regarded to be as formulaic as industrial methods of production. While these works of art may not offend the sensibilities of today’s audiences, they were referred to as “Lamentable and revolting . . .” and as “. . . Monstrously perverse . . .” by their contemporary critics.

The Pre-Raphaelites and members of the later Arts & Crafts Movement, including artists and designers such as William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, William De Morgan and Kate Bunce, operated from a moral commitment to honest labor, the handmade object, and the ability of art to heal a society losing its humanity to industry and mechanization. The works of the men and women presented in the exhibition illustrate a spectrum of avant-garde practices of the Victorian period embodying aesthetic and social ideals. These artists’ attention to detail, use of vibrant colors, and engagement with both literary themes and contemporary life, is evident in the paintings, watercolors, and superb examples of decorative art on view.

The exhibition explores how a group of artists and crafts people used their work to address class disparity, a changing urban environment, and the rise of new technology—as we see many artists doing in Seattle today. Drawn entirely from the renowned collection of the city of Birmingham, United Kingdom, Victorian Radicals offers an opportunity to reflect on how this artistic response to a new industrial era connects to the creative ways artists and makers respond to our current age of technology.


The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and Birmingham Museums Trust. The exhibition is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding provided by Clare McKeon and the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation.


Birmingham Museum

The presentation in Seattle is made possible by

Presenting Sponsor


Lead Sponsors


Generous Support
Kreielsheimer Exhibition Endowment
Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts

Advisory Committee

Seattle Art Museum convened a group of advisors, from diverse backgrounds and affiliations, to provide guidance throughout the exhibition planning process.

The Victorian Radicals advisory committee: Kelly Bjork, Karen Cheng, Rachel Gallaher, Jerry Garcia, Dana Garvey, Misha Graham, Elisheba Johnson, Malia Peoples, Jayme Yen.

Learn more about SAM’s commitment to equity.

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