Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

The English painter and designer Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) inherited some of the tradition and preoccupations of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. He was a designer for the firm of Morris & Co.

Edward Burne-Jones was born on Aug. 28, 1833, and was originally destined for the Church. With that intention he went to Oxford University in 1852, where he met William Morris, who became his lifelong colleague. When Burne-Jones met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1855, Rossetti persuaded him to leave Oxford and become a painter. The following year Burne-Jones became Rossetti's pupil.

Burne-Jones and Morris collaborated in 1857 on Rossetti's mural paintings in the Oxford Union. The earliest works of Burne-Jones, such as the watercolor Clerk Sanders (1861), closely resemble Rossetti's in style and technique but only distantly echo the teacher's vivid, mystical expressiveness: Rossetti's passion gives way to a delicate, meditative nostalgia.

Visits to Italy in 1859 and 1862 resulted in a noticeable change in Burne-Jones's style, under the influence of such Renaissance painters as Andrea Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo. A stylistically uneasy amalgam of these influences with his pale variant of Rossetti's imaginative intensity can be seen in the Perseus series (begun 1875) and later in the well-known King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid (1884), which in subject matter conform to the romanticizing view of the past that Burne-Jones inherited from the Pre-Raphaelites.

Burne-Jones was a founder-partner of Morris & Co., established in April 1861 to produce individually designed, handmade objects; this was the origin of the Arts and Crafts movement. Burne-Jones's first designs for Morris had been for stained glass used in the decoration of Morris's own house in 1857; later he made innumerable designs, especially for stained glass, tapestry, and book illustration, for Morris's firm. In 1862 Burne-Jones was at his best, producing designs of fresh simplicity, but after about 1870, under increasing Renaissance influence, the rich primary colors of medieval glass gave way to anemic, stylized figures in pallid colors. Burne-Jones lacked Rossetti's rich imaginative power, and his art sank into the calm sentimentality of estheticism and marked the final demise of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Burne-Jones well deserved W. G. Gilbert's characterization as that "Greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery, Foot-in-the-grave young man."

Burne-Jones was instrumental in founding the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 to provide an exhibition forum for young, unacademic painters. The Royal Academy elected Burne-Jones a member in 1885, but he resigned in 1893. In 1894 he was created baronet, and he died on June 17, 1898.


Further Reading on Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

There is no recent monograph on Burne-Jones. The basic biographical work is by his wife, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones (1904; new ed. 1906). His work is sketchily discussed in early monographs, including Malcolm Bell, Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1901). Robin Ironside, Pre-Raphaelite Painters (1948), and John D. Hunt, The Pre-Raphaelite Imagination, 1848 to 1900 (1969), include useful sections on Burne-Jones. His work in connection with Morris & Co. is discussed by Paul Thompson in The Work of William Morris (1967).

Additional Biography Sources

Fitzgerald, Penelope, Edward Burne-Jones: a biography, London: Joseph, 1975.

Harrison, Martin, Burne-Jones/material, London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1979.