Friday, January 23, 2015

Edward Burne-Jones

The Star of Bethlehem
watercolor and gouache
101.125 × 152 cm
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom

"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 - and the forms divinely beautiful." (Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones)

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) produced a vast amount of work throughout his career. He achieved great success in his day and was influential on a number of movements such as the French Symbolists. He was an idealist, he was in pursuit of perfection and this quest led him to the days of knights and maidens. There is a sensuous beauty in his finest works, and it is this which ensures his work continues to be popular. In addition to painting and stained glass, he worked in a variety of crafts; including designing ceramic tiles, jewellery, tapestries, mosaics and book illustration.

He was born in Birmingham; his mother died only a few days later. Through his father, a frame-maker, and other relatives, he was able to develop his natural gift for drawing, although he had little or no formal tuition before leaving King Edward VI School, Birmingham, to enter Exeter College, Oxford, in 1853. He was originally destined for the Church and with that intention he went to Oxford University.

It was here at Oxford University that he discovered the Aesthetic Movement. He was inspired by Pre-Raphaelite painters such as John Everett Millais and Holman Hunt, and by 1855 on a tour of North France with William Morris, he decided to become a painter. A year later he left Oxford without a degree and moved to London where he studied under Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was to be the prime influence over his career.

Working in a style inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites, his paintings depicted medieval and mythical subjects. Ethereally beautiful women and knights in shining armour often featured in his work alongside many Renaissance features. His classical style, however, was seen as outmoded by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The Victorian values represented in his paintings were seen as sentimental and the heroines with their submissive postures were seen as lacking the toughness of the modern emancipated woman.

Although elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1885, he resigned in 1893; other honours included the Legion d’Honneur and the award of a baronetcy in 1894. He died of heart failure and his ashes rest at the church in Rottingdean, Sussex, where he kept a holiday home.