28th August 2017
Edward Burne-Jones was born on this day in 1833. He was a British artist and designer, heavily involved with the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. He worked closely with William Morris which is why you might have seen his name mentioned rather a lot on our blog! A founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. he was passionate and a leading member in the revival of the stained art tradition in Britain. Take a look around at cathedrals and churches throughout Britain and you’ll see examples of his work even today – St Martin in the Bull Ring in Birmingham, Christ Church, Oxford, Cumbria – the church designed by Philip Webb, St.Edward the Confessor Church at Cheddleton Staffordshire to name only a few.
Whilst his early show an overwhelming influence from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, by the 1860s he had developed his own style or ‘voice’ in his work. Not to be pigeon holed into one art, as well as painting and stained glass work, he also was involved in ceramic tiles, jewellery in addition to creating tapestries and mosaics. He even did book illustrations and designed the woodcuts for Kelmscott Press’s Chaucer in 1896.
Born in Birmingham, he met William Morris when he attended Exeter College in Oxford to study theology. They had a mutual interest in poetry and so formed a quick bond, which extended to Burne-Jones’ friends from home known as the ‘Birmingham Set.’ The small group dubbed themselves ‘The Brotherhood’ which included, John Ruskin and Tennyson. At this point, neither Morris nor Burne-Jones knew Rossetti but they knew his work and were heavily influenced by him, eventually meeting him as they recruited him to contribute to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine we’ve mentioned in a past blog. It was actually Rossetti’s influence which led Burne-Jones away from his intended life as a church minister as both him and Morris chose the path of becoming artists.
In a letter dated February 1857, Rossetti acknowledges this to his friend William Bell Scott, “two young men, projectors of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, have recently come up to town from Oxford, and are now very intimate friends of mine. Their names are Morris and Jones. They have turned artists instead of taking up any other career to which the university generally leads, and both are men of real genius. Jones’s designs are marvels of finish and imaginative detail, unequalled by anything unless perhaps Albert Dürer’s finest works.” He was Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co’s principle designer of stained glass, it became his area of expertise within the business and he created more than 500 of them.
In his private life, Burne-Jones married Georgiana MacDonald in 1860, who was at the time training to be a painter and was the sister of one of his school friends. They had a son, Philip in 1861, losing their second son shortly after birth in the winter of 1864 whilst Georgiana was gravely ill with scarlet fever. They moved to 41 Kensington Square with Philip and had a daughter Margaret here in 1866. During the years of Edward’s affair with his model Maria Zambaco (a passionate time for him which ended in her attempting suicide by throwing herself in Regent’s Canal) was an understandably difficult time for Georgiana. She formed a close friendship with Morris as his wife Jane had fallen for Rossetti and was embroiled in an affair with him. As for Georgiana and Morris were in love, or if he asked her to leave Burne-Jones for him, all we know is that if asked, she said no, however they did remain close for the rest of their lives. The Burne-Joneses remained together, as did the Morrises.
A bit out of season, but a year round incredibly beautiful and detailed art piece, and one of our favourites by Burne-Jones is The Nativity. Commissioned by the church of St.John the Apostle in Torquay in 1887. The church is a Gothic Revival and, designed by George Edmund Street in the 1860s, it was decorated by Morris & Co. This was Morris’ decorative arts company of which Burne-Jones was a partner. The scene depicts Mary protectively sheltering infant Jesus as Joseph watches over them. The angels are towards the left of the painting – in each of their hands they bear three symbols – the Passion and Crucifixion, the crown of thorns and myrrh and a chalice. The depth of story he gives to his pieces and the beauty in which he paints sets him apart from the rest.
Make sure you look back through our blogs for much more on his life! A fascinating man in his own right and as a close friend and business associate of Morris, we do write about him in many of our blogs!