Subtlety is not a word that you’d associate with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. By and large, the work of these Victorian artists is decidedly high gloss and high octane, whisking the viewer back in time, down rabbit holes of myth and legend, and into the languid gaze of beauties with strong shoulders, pursed lips and clouds of russet hair.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia (1851-2). Photo © Tate, London

Bursting with sexuality, pregnant with symbolism, and possessing a technicolour photorealism, these works may be dubiously regarded by modern critics, but their popularity is without doubt and their ability to shed light on the age that built Britain still astonishes.

This December, the National Gallery of Australia throws open its doors for a blockbuster exhibition titled Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate. Featuring 40 of Tate Britain’s Pre-Raphaelite works alongside 40 loans from other British and Australian collections, it’s an unprecedented showcase of the movement and a chance to see iconic works like John Everett Millais’ Ophelia(1851-2) and John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott(1888).

Formed in 1848 by young upstarts William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti,...