Born on this day; Edward Burne-Jones

28th August 2019

Born on this day in 1833, Edward Burne-Jones was a British artist and designer. Heavily involved in the later Pre-Raphaelite movement, he was a lifelong friend and colleague of William Morris. He was also a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. His main passion project throughout his life was to revive the art and production of stained glass in England. Some of the fact we have lots of stunning stained glass around Britain today can be credited to Burne-Jones.

We’re also lucky enough to have a remaining collection of his own work. You can see this in; St Martin in the Bull Ring in Birmingham, Christ Church, Oxford, Cumbria – the Church designed by Philip Webb. Also, St Edward the Confessor Church at Cheddleton Staffordshire to name a few.

He looked up to Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a figure of influence. This was alongside friends Morris and Philip Webb and earlier works do show this influence. By the 1860s however, he’d really stepped into his own style which we’re really glad for so we can see both of their works!

Within the Firm, he was involved with stained glass along with many other art forms including ceramic tiles, tapestry work, jewellery and mosaics. He is also noted to have tried his hand on book illustrations and designed woodcuts for Kelmscott Press’s Chaucer in 1896.

Early life

Born in Birmingham, his path crosses William Morris’s when they both attended Exeter College in Oxford to study Theology. Bonding over a mutual interest and love of poetry, he invited Morris into his friendship group from home. These friends included John Ruskin and Tennyson who were known as the ‘Birmingham Set’ and later ‘The Brotherhood.’ They didn’t personally know Rossetti at this time but were aware of him and took him as a point of inspiration. He influenced Burne-Jones to leave the path he was on to become a church minister and follow his passion to become an artist.

We can get an insight into this period when they were building a friendship with 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.”

Personal life

Edward Burne-Jones married Georgiana MacDonald in 1860. She was the sister of one of his school friends so this was how they initially met and then they went on to have a son Philip a year after they married. Tragically, they had a second son who passed away during the winter of 1864 when he contracted scarlet fever. Georgiana herself was very ill during this period. No longer wanting to stay in the place they lost their son, they moved to 41 Kensington Square where in 1866, they had a daughter, named Margaret.

The Firm

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. The Firm came about when Morris was furnishing Red House and realised that home furnishings wise, there was nothing that he wanted to purchase. He wanted a return to traditional craftsman products that were top quality. By working together, the group could all bring their own talents to the table; 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, Edward 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. If there’s ever anything specific you’d like us to blog about – just let us know!