Edward Burne-Jones

21st August 2018

Edward Burne-Jones, born on the 28 August 1833, was a British artist and designer, heavily involved in the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. A lifelong friend and colleague of William Morris, he was a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. his main passion was the revival of stained glass and the production of stained glass as an art form in Britain. Today, there remains an impressive collection of his stained glass around England; 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.

His earlier work shows an influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti – he looked up to him along with Morris and Philip Webb, though by the 1860s, he had developed his own style within his work which by this point has his own distinct tone. Along with his painting and stained glass work, he was also involved with ceramic tiles, jewellery, creating tapestries and mosaics. He even tried his hand on book illustrations and designed the woodcuts for Kelmscott Press’s Chaucer in 1896. 

But before we get to that… let’s go back to the beginning. Born in Birmingham, his story with William Morris began when they met when he attended Exeter College in Oxford, studying theology. Bonding quickly over their shared interest in poetry, he brought Morris into his friendship group from home; which included John Ruskin and Tennyson, who were known as the ‘Birmingham Set’ and then dubbed themselves ‘The Brotherhood.’ During this time, none of the men knew Rossetti but simply looked up to his work and beliefs. It was even Rossetti’s influence that led Burne-Jones away from the path he was on to be a church minister as he inspired him to follow his passion to become an artist. 

We can get an insight into this period when they were building a friendship with their idol Rossetti from a letter dated February 1857 written by Rossetti and written 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.”

Burne-Jones married Georgiana MacDonald at 1860, the sister of one of his school friends, they had a son Philip in 1861 but tragically lost their second son in the winter of 1864 during the winter when he contracted scarlet fever; Georgiana was very ill at this time too. They moved after she had recover to 41 Kensington Square and had a daughter in 1866, they named her Margaret. 

In 1861, when William Morris found Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with friends Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb as partners in the decorative arts firm. They wanted to work together to all showcase their talents; carving, stained glass, metal work, paper-hangings, chintzes and carpets. Each partner (plus Charles Faulkner and Peter Paul Marshall) had their speciality, Burne-Jones in particular was talented with stained glass. 

Many churches around the United Kingdom feature stained glass and this sector was a huge part of their business. The work they showed at the 1862 International Exhibition really boosted them into recognition and within a few years they were flourishing. Their two notable commissions was at the South Kensington Museum (today the Victoria and Albert) in 1867 and St. James’s Palace in the late 1860s which we were lucky enough to see for ourselves! In 1871, Morris & Co. were to design the windows at All Saints, designed by Burne-Jones for Alfred Baldwin, his wife’s brother in law. Even after the firm dissolved and relaunched as Morris & Co. in 1875, Burne-Jones continued to design for their stained glass projects and also tapestries. 

We have so many blog posts on the Pre-Raphealites and William Morris, so make sure to check them out to learn more about their lives and work.