Artist: Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet
Born: 28 August 1833, Birmingham, UK
Died: 17 June 1898, London, UK
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones was an artist and designer associated with the latter phases of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He worked closely with William Morris as a founding partner in Morris Marshall, Faulkner and Co. Burne-Jones is particularly noted for his close involvement in the rejuvenation of the traditional art of stained glass. His early paintings reveal the inspiration of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but by the 1860s Burne-Jones was discovering his own voice and style. In 1877 he exhibited eight oil paintings at the new rival for the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor Gallery and was taken up as the new star of the Aesthetic Movement. Burne-Jones also worked in a variety of crafts including ceramic tile design, jewellery, mosaics and tapestries.
Burne-Jones was the son of Edward Richard Jones, a frame maker, and Elizabeth Coley Jones, who died a few days after his birth. He was raised by his father and the family housekeeper. He attended King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham followed by the Birmingham School of Art before studying at Exeter College, Oxford. It was whilst at Oxford he became friends with William Morris due to their mutual interest in poetry. Both Burne-Jones and Morris were influenced by the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and met him when they recruited him as a contributor to their Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which Morris founded in 1856.
After leaving Oxford, Burne-Jones’ early works were clearly tinged by the influence of Rossetti, but clearly different to the master’s style with their more facile imagery. His pen-and-ink drawing on vellum were exquisitely finished and a clear display of Burne-Jones’ own mastery.
In 1861, Morris founded the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co with Burne-Jones as a partner. The firm’s prospectus offered carvings, stained glass, metal-work, paper-hangings, printed fabrics and carpets. From the beginning the decoration of churches was a major part of the business.
In 1864 Burne-Jones was elected am associate of the Old Water-Colour Society and exhibited The Merciful Night, amongst other works, which revealed the full ripeness of his artistic personality. Over the next six year he exhibited a series of fine watercolours at the same gallery. In 1866 he was commissioned to paint Maria Zamback in Cupid finding Psyche, an introduction which led to their tragic affair. The following year Burne-Jones resigned his membership due to the controversy over his painting Phyllis and Demophoӧn. The suggestion of female sexual assertiveness offended Victorian sensitivities. Burne-Jones was asked to adjust the painting, instead he removed it from the exhibition and himself from the society.
From 1870 to 1877 Burne-Jones only exhibited two water-colours at the Dudley Gallery one of which, the beautiful Love among the Ruins, was destroyed by a cleaner who assumed it was an oil painting some 20 years later.
Burne-Jones’ paintings were part of the evolving movement of Aestheticism of the 1860s through the 1880s. The concept that art should be valued as an object of beauty engaging a sensual response from the viewer rather than a story with implicit morality.
In 1896, devastated at the death of William Morris, Burne-Jones’ health went into decline. In 1898, after a severe bout of influenza he suffered a heart attack and died on 17 June 1898, London, UK. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church, Rottingdean.
Fair Rosamund and Queen Eleanor (1861, ink, water-colour, gouache on paper). Burne-Jones featured the Fair Rosamund in his paintings several times during the 1860s. The legendary tale of Rosamund, the mistress of King Henry II, murdered by Queen Eleanor in the elaborate hiding place created by the king inspired by the dramatic verse by Swinburne. It is also commonly assumed that Rosamund was buried at Godstowe, which the artist visited whilst a student at Oxford.
The painting is currently housed by Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut, USA
Temperantia (1872, Water-colour) is a depiction of a woman pouring water on the flames of excess. It is the last painting by Burne-Jones of Maria Zambaco, his model and lover and symbolizes the end of their relationship with Maria dowsing the flames of their passion.
The painting is currently housed in a private collection.
Cupid and Psyche (1870, water-colour, pastel, gouache on paper and linen) is inspired by the poem The Earthly Paradise by William Morris. The narrative of Cupid and Psyche was a favourite of Burne-Jones and inspired many of his works over a period of 30 years. The model for Psyche was Maria Zambaco and marks the beginning of Burne-Jones’ desire for his model and muse.
The painting is housed by the Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut, USA
Merlin and Nimue (1861, water-colour and ink on paper) was inspired by Sir Thomas Malory’s translation of a French medieval poem, Le Morte d’Arthur. Burne-Jones found the text in a bookshop in Birmingham and returned to it for inspiration again and again.
The painting is currently located at the V&A, London, UK.
Wedding of Sir Tristram (1862/3, Stained Glass) was originally designed for the Music Room od Harden Grange, Yorkshire, UK and formed part of series of thirteen panel commission with Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. The series depicts scenes from the story of Sir Tristram and la Belle Isoude from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.
It is currently located at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, UK