Sir Edward Burne-Jones
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Burne-Jones "Days of Creation," consisting of six panels, of which the
first and last are reproduced here, was originally designed for a church
window. Six angels are depicted, symbolizing the six days of creation.
Each angel is crowned with a plume of fire, and each bears a crystal
globe reflecting an act of creation, from the ordering of chaos in the
first, where a light globe and a dark globe are taking definite shapes
amid mysterious light and darkness, to the newly created man and woman
in the sixth. The graduating colors in these panels which give the key
to the motive are most ingeniously manipulated. In the first it is that
of a cold gray-green dawn, and the note is successively and felicitously
changed to harmonize with the day portrayed.
Sadly, "The Fourth Day" in the series was stolen from a dining room in
Dunster House at Harvard University in 1970 where the entire series was
hanging on loan from the Fogg Art Museum and was never recovered.
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Angel Playing a Flageolet 1878
Edward Burne-Jones (1833 - 1898)
Burne-Jones was twenty-three years old he never saw a good picture. It was in
that year that he began to study the rudiments of drawing. Yet a year or two
later no less an artist and critic than Dante Gabriel Rossetti declared that
Burne-Jones' designs were equal to Albrecht Dürer's finest work; and today he is
regarded as "perhaps the most perfect of English painters."
As his name indicates, Burne-Jones was of Welsh descent. His mother died at his
birth, and his only sister in early infancy. His father, a small tradesman who
made picture-frames and sold stationery in Birmingham, England, was ambitious
for his son to be a clergyman, and managed to give him a superior education. At
nineteen the youth won a scholarship at Exeter College and went up to Oxford.
There he met another freshman of Welsh birth, William Morris, and the face of
things suddenly changed. Their dreams and aspirations tallied in that their
deep-rooted sense of the ugliness and monotony of the present and their common
love of the past drew the young undergraduates together and laid the foundation
of a life-long friendship.
In 1856 we
hear of Burne-Jones and Morris sharing lodgings in London, devoting
themselves respectively to painting and poetry. Recognition came early
to both of them, and six years later Burne-Jones painted his now famous
little picture of "Christ and the Merciful Knight," which "stamped its
author at once as a master of original genius, whose style was entirely
distinct from that of Rossetti, as well as absolutely unlike that of any
Adoration of the Kings, 1887
He and Morris were for many years co-partners in the celebrated firm of Morris and Company,
and to their joint efforts the complete revolution which took place in decorative art, and drove Victorian stuffiness from our houses, is to be ascribed.
The Annunciation, 1876
|It was for the Kelmscott Press, founded by Morris, that Burne-Jones made
eighty-seven illustrations for an edition of Chaucer, and for a long period he
was a designer of mosaics and executed designs for tapestries. It is probable
that his influence has been exercised far less in painting than in the broad
fields of decorative design. His executed cartoons for stained glass, and
windows from his designs are to be found throughout England and occasionally in
America. In fact, his romantic imagination dominated every branch of his art,
and his energy needed to be inexhaustible to keep pace with his constant
procession of ideas.
Burne-Jones was made an associate of the Royal Academy in 1883, and
acknowledged the compliment by sending his oil painting, "The Depths of
the Sea," to the yearly exhibition. In this he pictured a mermaid
carrying down with her a youth whom she has unconsciously drowned in the
impetuosity of her love. Its tragic irony of conception and beauty of
execution give it a high place among his works, his own conception of
which is stated in a letter to a friend: "I mean by a picture a
beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be—in a
light better than any light that ever shone—in a land no one can define
or remember, only desire."
No artist was ever truer to his own ideals, for his
men and women, earth, sky, rocks and trees are not of this world, but make a
world of their own consistent with itself, therefore having its own reality. He
was engaged on his picture of "The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon" until a few
hours before his death, on June 17, 1898.
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