[ LADY LEVER ART GALLERY ] [ EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES ]
 


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Edward Burne-Jones was one of the most important members of the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism in the 19th century. He was a firm supporter of Pre-Raphaelite ideals and a close friend of Rossetti, whom he had first met in 1857 when he had helped him to decorate the walls of the Oxford Union Debating Society with frescos. Under Rossetti's influence he painted a number of highly romantic subjects taken from the Arthurian legends, as well as myths and scenes from the Bible. Photograph by Barbara Leighton, 1890, of the artist painting The Star of Bethlehem in the garden studio of The Grange, his London house. The painting was commissioned by the Corporation of Birmingham. Born in Birmingham, Burne-Jones was originally destined for the ministry but changed course when Rossetti urged him to devote himself entirely to painting. The medieval and mystical elements in the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites clearly appealed to someone like Burne-Jones who had always been fascinated by the mythology of the classics, which he had attempted to bring to life in such medieval romance paintings as The Beguiling of Merlin, Fair Rosamund and The Madness of Sir Tristan. Most of Burne-Jones' work was a romantic dream. As he said himself in a letter that he wrote 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 ever shone - in a land that no one can define or remember, only desire - and the forms divinely beautiful..." By the 1880s Burne-Jones was already an international figure, and he remained so until his death on 17 June 1898 at Fulham, London. He left this world laden with honours. He had been given the Legion of Honour, been made a baronet, and awarded many European prizes. He exhibited only one picture at the Royal Academy, The Depths of the Sea, which depicted a mermaid carrying down through the sea a youth whom she had thoughtlessly drowned in the impetuosity of her love. Burne-Jones' forte lay in the field of decorative design: tapestries, ceramics and stained glass; he also illustrated many books, a number of them produced by the Kelmscott Press, which was founded by William Morris. Burne-Jones is buried in the small seaside town of Rottingdean, near Brighton. Burne-Jones' granddaughter Angela Thirkell became a novelist. Her reminiscences of childhood in London and Rottingdean - Three Houses - is a fascinating read, giving a new perspective to the life of the Burne-Jones family. Edward Burne-Jones was survived by his son, Philip (1861-1921), who became a portrait painter and was knighted, but being a highly emotional and unstable man, he committed suicide in 1926. Burne-Jones' wife, Georgiana, published The Flower Book and two volume of memoirs after her husband's death: Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones: Volume I, Volume II After Burne-Jones' death in 1898, there was a memorial exhibition of his work in the winter of 1898 at the New Gallery. After that, the next exhibition was not to be until 1975, an indication of how poorly Victorian art was regarded for most of the 20th century. In 1998 there was a major exhibition of Burne-Jones to celebrate the centenary of his death. The exhibition travelled to New York, Paris and Birmingham, Burne-Jones' birthplace.

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