On my bookshelf | The Pre-Raphaelites, by Christopher Wood - Museums Association

On my bookshelf | The Pre-Raphaelites, by Christopher Wood

This book is a reminder of the emotional connections visitors make to collections, says Helen Antrobus
Artists Bookshelf
Helen Antrobus
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Helen Antrobus
Curator of national public programmes at the National Trust

This book, which was first published in 1981, is a coffee-table dream. It is a deep, Victorian-red hardback crammed with page after page of some of the most famous – and infamous – pre-Raphaelite paintings. It was unaccountably in our house when I was growing up and I was obsessed with staring at the paintings, captivated by the colours, the dramatic scenes and the fantastical imagery.  

Even better, growing up in Salford, I could visit Manchester Art Gallery and see many of the paintings in real life. 

Eight years ago, as an indecisive student, I visited a bookshop with my dad. As I was tentatively talking to him about wanting to work with history and art, and how my dream job would be to work with the pre-Raphaelite paintings in that old book he had, we turned a corner and there, lying on the shelf, was a single copy of Wood’s The Pre-Raphaelites, staring back at me.  

I bought the book for £2.50 and decided then and there that I might just try and work with the paintings that I loved so much. 

Career-wise, I turned instead to political collections and histories, but thanks to that book, I still constantly visit the pre-Raphaelite paintings at Manchester Art Gallery.  

It’s a reminder of the emotional connections visitors make to collections, and how it is our job to foster those personal, unique and powerful experiences as much as possible. 

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