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
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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