If you are a fan of Burne-Jones already you will need no further encouragement. The first major retrospective in forty years is packed with his most famous paintings, but you will also see drawings, stained glass, tapestries, book illustrations and decorative panels.
Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his early art was heavily influenced by Gothic and Renaissance art. Fascination with female beauty combined with interest in myths and legends led the painter towards Aestheticism and Symbolism later in his career. Sensuous figures in fantastic settings inspired by medieval art and architecture were a recurring theme.
Four reasons to see it
- The exquisite Briar Rose series based on the fairy-tale of Sleeping Beauty by the Grimm brothers. It comprises four scenes as seen from the point of view of the Prince who enters the castle and sees everyone asleep under the spell. The artist suspended the plot, the viewer does not get to see what happens next in the story. The four large narrative panels were bought by a wealthy MP Alexander Henderson for his country house Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, and the painter created additional small panels to act as links between the paintings in the room. The whole series was reassembled especially for this exhibition.
- Drawings and caricatures. Burne-Jones was a very skilled draughtsman, but his caricatures and humorous drawings are a less known part of his oeuvre. This caricature drawing of the Annunciation inspired by Rubens leaves no doubt as to who was his least favourite painter. This one was my favourite, but there were many more witty drawings featuring the artist himself and his friends, including William Morris.
- The Adoration of the Magi (1894). Perhaps the facial features were not entirely accurately reproduced after Burne-Jones’s original design, but this unusual tapestry is one of the most captivating interpretations of the Adoration of the Magi I have ever seen. Look at the faces of the Magi and the charming baby Jesus!
4. Working for Morris & Co (he was a founding member of the company and a close friend of William Morris) Burne-Jones delivered a large number of decorative arts projects for private patrons and churches. Around 660 church windows were made by Morris & Co after Burne-Jones’s designs. It is therefore surprising that some of his religious paintings were rather adventurous. After all, the man could make even Lucifer and his army attractive. You will not see The Fall of Lucifer anywhere else as it is privately owned.
The artist had many critics in his day, he even quit the Old Watercolour Society after he received criticism for his painting Phyllis and Demophöon (Victorian audience was not impressed with the male nude to say the least). Later critics of his art also had issues with lack of psychological depth and with sexualised and objectified images of women. The androgynous faces of his male figures were often based on female models, sometimes producing slightly unsettling images. Nevertheless the majority of works in the exhibition are a lasting testament to Burne-Jones’s life-long quest for beauty and wonderful imagination.
Here you can see the exhibition trailer. I think Burne-Jones would have loved it.
Edward Burne-Jones is at Tate Britain from 24 October 2018 until 24 February 2019
https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/edward-burne-jones – exhibition website
Buscot House website (where The Briar Rose series is held)