Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet, ARA (28 August, 1833 – 17 June, 1898) was a British artist and designer associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked with William Morris on decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.
Burne-Jones was involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in Britain; his works include windows in numerous Cathedrals and churches in England. Burne-Jones's early paintings show the inspiration of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but by the 1860s Burne-Jones was discovering his own artistic "voice".
In 1877, he was persuaded to show eight oil paintings at the Grosvenor Gallery (a new rival to the Royal Academy). These included The Beguiling of Merlin. The timing was right and he was taken up as a herald and star of the new Aesthetic Movement. Burne-Jones worked in crafts; including designing ceramic tiles, jewellery, tapestries, and mosaics.
Edward Coley Burne Jones (the hyphen came later) was born in Birmingham, the son of a Welshman, Edward Richard Jones, a frame-maker at Bennetts Hill(A blue plaque commemorates the painter's childhood). His mother Elizabeth Jones (née Coley) died within six days of his birth, and Edward was raised by his father, and the family housekeeper, Ann Sampson, an obsessively affectionate but humourless, and unintellectual local girl.
He attended Birmingham's King Edward VI grammar school in 1844 and the Birmingham School of Art from 1848 to 1852, before studying theology at Exeter College, Oxford. At Oxford, he became a friend of William Morris as a consequence of a mutual interest in poetry. The two Exeter undergraduates, together with a group of Jones' friends from Birmingham known as the Birmingham Set, formed a society, which they called "The Brotherhood". The members of the brotherhood read John Ruskin and Alfred Tennyson, visited churches, and worshipped the Middle Ages. At this time, Burne-Jones discovered Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur which would be very influential in his life. At that time, neither Burne-Jones nor Morris knew Dante Gabriel Rossetti personally, but both were much influenced by his works, and met him by recruiting him as a contributor to their Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which Morris founded in 1856 to promote their ideas.
Burne-Jones had intended to become a church minister, but under Rossetti's influence both he and Morris decided to become artists, and Burne-Jones left college before taking a degree to pursue a career in art.
Burne-Jones once admitted that after leaving Oxford he "found himself at five-and-twenty what he ought to have been at fifteen". He had had no regular training as a draughtsman, and lacked the confidence of science. But his extraordinary faculty of invention as a designer was already ripening; his mind, rich in knowledge of classical story and medieval romance, teemed with pictorial subjects, and he set himself to complete his set of skills by resolute labour, witnessed by his drawings.
Edward Burne-Jones works of this first period are all more or less tinged by the influence of Dante Rossetti; but they are already differentiated from the elder master's style by their more facile though less intensely felt elaboration of imaginative detail. Many are pen-and-ink drawings on vellum, exquisitely finished, of which his Waxen Image (1856) is one of the earliest and best examples. Although the subject, medium and manner derive from Rossetti's inspiration, it is not the hand of a pupil merely, but of a potential master. This was recognised by Rossetti himself, who before long avowed that he had nothing more to teach him.
In February 1857, Rossetti wrote to 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.
In 1856 Burne-Jones became engaged to Georgiana "Georgie" MacDonald (1840–1920), one of the MacDonald sisters. She was training to be a painter, and was the sister of Burne-Jones's old school friend.
Burne-Jones's first sketch in oils dates from this same year, 1856, and during 1857 he made for Bradfield College the first of what was to be an immense series of cartoons for stained glass.
In the autumn of 1857 Burne-Jones joined Morris, Valentine Prinsep, J. R. Spencer Stanhope and others in Rossetti's ill-fated scheme to decorate the walls of the Oxford Union. None of the painters had mastered the technique of fresco, and their pictures had begun to peel from the walls before they were completed.
In 1858 he decorated a cabinet with the Prioress's Tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, his first direct illustration of the work of a poet whom he especially loved and who inspired him with endless subjects.
In 1859 Burne-Jones made his first journey to Italy. He saw Florence, Pisa, Siena, Venice and other places, and appears to have found the gentle and romantic Sienese more attractive than any other school. Rossetti's influence persisted, and is visible, more strongly perhaps than ever before, in the two watercolours of 1860, Sidonia von Bork and Clara von Bork. Both paintings illustrate the 1849 gothic novel Sidonia the Sorceress by Lady Wilde, a translation of Sidonia Von Bork: Die Klosterhexe (1847) by Johann Wilhelm Meinhold.
In 1860, Burne-Jones married Georgiana MacDonald, after which she made her own work in woodcuts, and became a close friend of George Eliot. (Another MacDonald sister was the mother of Rudyard Kipling, who was thus Burne-Jones's nephews by marriage).
Georgiana gave birth to a son, Philip, in 1861.
That same year, William Morris founded the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb as partners, together with Charles Faulkner and Peter Paul Marshall, the former of whom was a member of the Oxford Brotherhood, and the latter a friend of Brown and Rossetti. The prospectus set forth that the firm would undertake carving, stained glass, metal-work, paper-hangings, chintzes (printed fabrics), and carpets. Since then, Burne-Jones was responsible for designs of stained glass windows and panel figures in various Cathedrals and churches, and later tapestries until the end of his career.
In 1864, Burne-Jones was elected an associate of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours—which is known as the Old Water-Colour Society—and exhibited, among other works, The Merciful Knight, the first picture which fully revealed his ripened personality as an artist.
In the winter of that year, Georgiana became gravely ill with scarlet fever and gave birth to a second son who died soon thereafter. The family then moved to 41 Kensington Square.
In 1866, Edward Burne-Jones's daughter Margaret was born, that same year, Mrs. Cassavetti commissioned Burne-Jones to paint her daughter, Maria Zambaco, in Cupid finding Psyche, an introduction which led to their tragic affair.
In 1867 Burne-Jones and his family settled at the Grange, an 18th-century house set in a garden in North End, Fulham, London.
In 1870, Burne-Jones resigned his membership following a controversy over his painting Phyllis and Demophoön. The features of Maria Zambaco were clearly recognisable in the barely draped Phyllis, and the undraped nakedness of Demophoön coupled with the suggestion of female sexual assertiveness offended Victorian sensibilities. Burne-Jones was asked to make a slight alteration, but instead "withdrew not only the picture from the walls, but himself from the Society."
During the next seven years, 1870–1877, only two works of the painter's were exhibited. This was partly due to a number of bitterly hostile attacks in the press, and partly due to his passionate affair with his Greek model Maria Zambaco, which ended with her trying to commit suicide by throwing herself in Regent's Canal.
Both exhibited works were water-colours, shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1873, one of them being the beautiful Love Among the Ruins, destroyed twenty years later by a cleaner who supposed it to be an oil painting, but afterwards reproduced in oils by the painter.
He thus began painting in oils again, working at them in turn, and having them on hand. The first Briar Rose series, Laus Veneris, The Golden Stairs, The Pygmalion series, and The Mirror of Venus are among the works planned and completed, or carried far towards completion.
During these difficult years Edward Burne-Jones's Georgiana developed a friendship with William Morris, whose wife Jane Morris had fallen in love with Dante Rossetti. William Morris and Georgie Burne Jones may have been in love, but if he asked her to leave her husband, she refused. In the end, the Burne-Joneses remained together, as did the Morrises, but Morris and Georgiana were close for the rest of their lives.
The beginnings of Burne-Jones' partnership with the fine-art photographer Frederick Hollyer, whose reproductions of paintings and—especially—drawings would expose an audience to Burne-Jones's works in the coming decades, began during this period.
At last, in May 1877, the day of recognition came with the opening of the first exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery, when the Days of Creation, The Beguiling of Merlin, and the Mirror of Venus were all shown.
Burne-Jones followed up the signal success of these pictures with Laus Veneris, the Chant d'Amour, Pan and Psyche, and other works, exhibited in 1878. Most of these pictures are painted in brilliant colours.
A change is noticeable in 1879 in the Annunciation and in the four pictures making up the second series of Pygmalion and the Image; the former of these, one of the simplest and most perfect of the artist's works, is subdued and sober; in the latter a scheme of soft and delicate tints was attempted, not with entire success. A similar temperance of colours marks The Golden Stairs, first exhibited in 1880.
That same year, the Burne-Joneses bought Prospect House in Rottingdean, near Brighton in Sussex, as their holiday home and soon after, the next door Aubrey Cottage to create North End House, reflecting the fact that their Fulham home was in North End Road. (Years later, in 1923, Sir Roderick Jones, head of Reuters, and his wife, playwright and novelist Enid Bagnold, were to add the adjacent Gothic House to the property, which became the inspiration and setting for her play The Chalk Garden).
In 1883, Burne-Jones exhibited his almost sombre Wheel of Fortune, which was followed in 1884 by King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, in which Burne-Jones once more indulged his love of gorgeous colour, refined by the period of self-restraint. He next turned to two important sets of pictures, The Briar Rose and The Story of Perseus, although these were not completed.
Burne-Jones's paintings were one strand in the evolving tapestry of Aestheticism from the 1860s through the 1880s, which considered that art should be valued as an object of beauty engendering a sensual response, rather than for the story or moral implicit in the subject matter. In many ways this was antithetical to the ideals of Ruskin and the early Pre-Raphaelites.
Edward Burne-Jones was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1885, and the following year he exhibited uniquely at the Academy, showing The Depths of the Sea, a painting of a mermaid carrying down with her a youth whom she has unconsciously drowned in the impetuosity of her love. This picture adds to the habitual haunting charm a tragic irony of conception and a felicity of execution which give it a place apart among Burne-Jones's works. He formally resigned his Associateship in 1893.
One of the Perseus series was exhibited in 1887 and two more in 1888, with The Brazen Tower, inspired by the same legend. In 1890 the second series of The Legend of Briar Rose were exhibited by themselves and won admiration.
The huge watercolour, The Star of Bethlehem, painted for the corporation of Birmingham, was exhibited in 1891.
A long illness for a time checked the painter's activity, which, when resumed, was much occupied with decorative schemes. An exhibition of his work was held at the New Gallery in the winter of 1892–1893. To this period belong his comparatively few portraits.
In 1894, Burne-Jones was made a baronet, and he legally changed his name to Burne-Jones at that time, hyphenating his name, merely—as he wrote later—to avoid "annihilation" in the mass of Joneses. Ill-health again interrupted the progress of his works, chief among which was the vast Arthur in Avalon.
Although known primarily as a painter, Burne-Jones was active as an illustrator, helping the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic to enter mainstream awareness. He designed books for the Kelmscott Press between 1892 and 1898. His illustrations appeared in the following books, among others:
William Morris died in 1896, which devastated Burne-Jones and his health declined substantially.
In 1898 he suffered an attack of influenza, and had apparently recovered when he was again taken suddenly ill, and died on 17 June 1898.
Six days later, at the intervention of the Prince of Wales, a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey. It was the first time an artist had been so honoured. Burne-Jones' ashes were buried in the churchyard at St Margaret's Church, Rottingdean, a place he knew through summer family holidays.
In the winter following his death, a second exhibition of his works was held at the New Gallery, and an exhibition of his drawings (including some of the charmingly humorous sketches made for children) at the Burlington Fine Arts Club.
His troubled son Philip, who became a successful portrait painter, died in 1926. His adored daughter Margaret (died 1953) married John William Mackail (1850–1945), the friend and biographer of William Morris, and Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1911 to 1916. Their children were the novelists Angela Thirkell and Denis Mackail, and the youngest, Clare Mackail.