The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imaginationby Fiona MacCarthy
While still a student at Oxford, Edward Burne-Jones formed a friendship and made a renunciation that would shape art history. The friendship was with William Morris, with whom he would occupy the social and intellectual center of the era's cult of beauty. The renunciation was of his intention to enter the clergy, when he-together with Morris-vowed to throw over the
While still a student at Oxford, Edward Burne-Jones formed a friendship and made a renunciation that would shape art history. The friendship was with William Morris, with whom he would occupy the social and intellectual center of the era's cult of beauty. The renunciation was of his intention to enter the clergy, when he-together with Morris-vowed to throw over the Church in favor of art. In Fiona MacCarthy's riveting account of Burne-Jones's life, that exchange of faith for art places him at the intersection of the nineteenth century and the Modern, as he leads us forward from Victorian mores and attitudes to the psychological, sexual, and artistic audacity that would characterize the early twentieth century.
In MacCarthy's hands, Burne-Jones emerges as a great visionary painter, a master of mystic reverie, and a pivotal late nineteenth-century cultural and artistic figure. Lavishly illustrated with color plates, The Last Pre-Raphaelite shows that Burne-Jones's influence extended far beyond his own circle to Freudian Vienna and the delicately gilded erotic dream paintings of Gustav Klimt, the Swiss Symbolist painter Ferdinand Hodler, and the young Pablo Picasso and the Catalan painters.
Drawing on extensive research, MacCarthy offers a fresh perspective on the achievement of Burne-Jones, a precursor to the Modern, and tells the dramatic, fascinating story of this peculiarly captivating and elusive man.
The Washington Post
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter 13: The Grange, Two
Burne-Jones returned from Italy with a surge of energy. His own optimistic record of the designs and paintings on which he was working in 1872 is now in the Burne-Jones papers at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. There are thirty-four projects on the list and they include ideas and early versions of many of the paintings that are now considered quintessential Burne-Jones. The Sleeping Beauty series; The Days of Creation; The Beguiling of Merlin; The Golden Stairs; an enlarged oil version of Le Chant d’Amour for William Graham. These were all conceived in what seems an unstoppable outpouring of ideas. This work-in-progress list gives us a fascinating insight into his way of working. He liked to have a multitude of projects, in varying stages of completion, on the go at once. ‘I have sixty pictures, oil and water, in my studio and every day I would gladly begin a new one,’ he wrote exultantly soon after he was home. He moved easily from pencil drawing to oil and watercolour painting, shifted almost without thinking from one scale to another. He was concentrating on the niggling detail of a little triptych of Pyramus and Thisbe painted in watercolour on vellum. At the same time he had started on the first of his large-scale decorative cycles, returning to the story of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ for the dining room of the Howards’ new house, 1 Palace Green. Burne-Jones was the master of the uncompleted project and many of these works took years and years to finish, often going through numerous versions. The Golden Stairs, for instance, was not finally completed until 1880. The Troy Triptych, the pictorial epic of the Trojan Wars which had started life at Red House and to which Burne-Jones now returned with a new vigour, even producing a large quasi-Renaissance three-dimensional model, never saw the light of day. William Morris gave up waiting for Burne-Jones’s contribution to his new long poem Love is Enough, though ‘Many designs’ for it are listed in the records. Love is Enough was published in 1872 without Burne-Jones’s illustration.
This was not, of course, the way to make a living as an artist and although Burne-Jones by this time had opened his first bank account, introduced by William Morris to his own bank, Praed’s of Fleet Street, he found it convenient to ignore financial realities. He told Fairfax Murray on his return from Italy, ‘all my affairs are in their accustomed muddle’. It was to be many years before the family became financially secure.
Meet the Author
Fiona MacCarthy is one of Britain’s most acclaimed biographers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and the author of numerous books, including William Morris: A Life for Our Time.
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