Town mouse visits Tate Britain

THE Pre-Raphaelites have been undergoing spasmodic revivals for as long as I can remember. What I wondered, as I walked to the current exhibition at Tate Britain, would these technically brilliant but stubbornly Victorian artists hold for today? The answer became obvious when I visited the Turner Prize exhibition.

The Turner Prize is a byword for everything Pre-Raphaelitism isn’t. Close observation of Nature, romantic medievalism, the purity of the early Renaissance, long-haired maidens, Biblical morality-no, they aren’t generally to be found. But this year, all the artists on the shortlist are storytellers. Narrative was the Pre-Raphaelites’ stock in trade.

Paul Noble’s obsessive drawings of his imaginary metropolis Nobson Newton actually have something of a Pre-Raphaelite quality to them. Then comes Luke Fowler’s film about the anti-psychiatrist R. D. Laing, a documentary with knobs on. Elizabeth Price’s The Woolworths Choir of 1979 owes its title to a fire that killed 10 people in a Wool-worth’s store 33 years ago. I’m not sure about Spartacus Chetwynd’s performance art. Turner Prize narratives are often incomprehensible. The Pre-Raphaelites tell a clearer story-but without the catalogue, you may not know what it is.

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