Few dead white male artists are as popular as Rossetti and co, despite a near total condemnation by modern critics. Even a senior curator at Tate Britain recently expressed to me his dislike of these artists - but what can Tate Britain do? As he said, if they don't show the pre-Raphaelites they get complaints from "teenage girls".
Well, I've decided to take my name off the petition calling for the pre-Raphaelites to be erased from history. After all, what was their crime? Not to be Manet. And yet just because their version of the avant-garde turned out to have little to do with the future of art doesn't mean these idealistic painters were without merit.
They were very literary artists, in a literary nation. They told stories that moved and seduced their public - and still do. In the end, liking a picture because it reminds you of the imaginative worlds of Tennyson, Dante, Keats and Shakespeare - to take some authors the pre-Raphaelites illustrated - is commendable. There are far worse reasons to like art than because it feeds a passion for literature. It is not even true that modern art owes nothing to the pre-Raphaelites. Their fascination with poetry, romance and dream came into its own in the late 19th century when the Symbolists emulated, and deepened, their sensuality. There is a line from Burne-Jones to Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon.
This is why the pre-Raphaelites are famous all over the world, not just in Britain. We can't escape them, and we shouldn't deny them. They epitomise the worst of British art - and the best.
(Artwork: Rossetti's Helen of Troy)