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Title: Burne-Jones - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Baldry, A. L. (Alfred Lys)
Language: English
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Masterpieces in Colour
Edited by - -
T. Leman Hare

BURNE-JONES
1833-1898

      *      *      *      *      *

"MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR" SERIES


    ARTIST.               AUTHOR.

    VELAZQUEZ.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
    REYNOLDS.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TURNER.               C. LEWIS HIND.
    ROMNEY.               C. LEWIS HIND.
    GREUZE.               ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
    BOTTICELLI.           HENRY B. BINNS.
    ROSSETTI.             LUCIEN PISSARRO.
    BELLINI.              GEORGE HAY.
    FRA ANGELICO.         JAMES MASON.
    REMBRANDT.            JOSEF ISRAELS.
    LEIGHTON.             A. LYS BALDRY.
    RAPHAEL.              PAUL G. KONODY.
    HOLMAN HUNT.          MARY E. COLERIDGE.
    TITIAN.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
    MILLAIS.              A. LYS BALDRY.
    CARLO DOLCI.          GEORGE HAY.
    GAINSBOROUGH.         MAX ROTHSCHILD.
    TINTORETTO.           S. L. BENSUSAN.
    LUINI.                JAMES MASON.
    FRANZ HALS.           EDGCUMBE STALEY.
    VAN DYCK.             PERCY M. TURNER.
    LEONARDO DA VINCI.    M. W. BROCKWELL.
    RUBENS.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WHISTLER.             T. MARTIN WOOD.
    HOLBEIN.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
    BURNE-JONES.          A. LYS BALDRY.
    VIGÉE LE BRUN.        C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    CHARDIN.              PAUL G. KONODY.
    FRAGONARD.            C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    MEMLINC.              W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
    CONSTABLE.            C. LEWIS HIND.
    RAEBURN.              JAMES L. CAW.
    JOHN S. SARGENT.      T. MARTIN WOOD.
    LAWRENCE.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
    DÜRER.                H. E. A. FURST.
    MILLET.               PERCY M. TURNER.
    WATTEAU.              C. LEWIS HIND.
    COROT.                SIDNEY ALLNUTT.

_Others in Preparation_.

      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: PLATE I.--THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA. Frontispiece

(In the possession of R. H. Benson, Esq.)

Apart from its technical beauty and its charm of design, this picture
has a special interest as the only contribution which the artist ever
made to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy. It was shown at Burlington
House in 1886, and was painted purposely, during the months that
intervened between his election as an Associate in the summer of 1885
and the opening of the 1886 exhibition. In the treatment of the subject
there is a touch of slightly grim humour, unusual in the art of
Burne-Jones, a humour which finds expression particularly in the face of
the mermaid, who drags a human being to her cave at the bottom of the
sea without thinking or caring that her sport means death to him.]


BURNE-JONES

by

A. LYS BALDRY

Illustrated with Eight Reproductions in Colour

[Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]



London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    Plate

       I. The Depths of the Sea                       Frontispiece
            In the possession of R. H. Benson, Esq.
                                                              Page
      II. Sidonia von Bork                                      14
            In the possession of W. Graham Robertson, Esq.

     III. Sponsa di Libano                                      24
            Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

      IV. Sibylla Delphica                                      34
            Manchester Art Gallery

       V. The Mill                                              40
            South Kensington Museum

      VI. King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid                     50
            The Tate Gallery

     VII. Danae (The Tower of Brass)                            60
            Glasgow Corporation Art Gallery

    VIII. The Enchantments of Nimue                             70
            South Kensington Museum

[Illustration: Drawing of Burne-Jones]

The place which should be assigned to Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the
history of modern art is by no means easy to define, for his work with
its unusual qualities of intention and achievement does not lend itself
readily to classification. At the outset of his career he might with
some justice have been numbered with the Pre-Raphaelites, because the
first influences to which he responded were those which directed the
Pre-Raphaelite movement, and because in his earliest productions he
showed that these influences had counted for much in the shaping of his
æsthetic inclinations. But as he developed he made plainer and more
convincing the assertion of his individuality, he ceased to be simply a
follower of a movement, and evolved for himself a system of æsthetic
practice which was personal both in aim and in manner of expression.
That in formulating this system he borrowed much from early Italian art,
that he based himself upon certain remote masters, with whose primitive
methods he was deeply in sympathy, can scarcely be denied; but in this
reference to the past he did not show the blind readiness to imitate
which is the vice of the copyist; he altered and adapted, varied this
principle and modified that detail, until he had with the material he
collected built up a quite complete superstructure, which was Italian
only in its foundation. And in this process of building up he was guided
surely enough by a right instinct for decorative propriety, an instinct
which was partly innate, partly the outcome of associations by which he
was largely affected throughout his life. If his personality had been
less strong, or his æsthetic preference less defined, these associations
might easily have cramped his imagination and narrowed him into the
repetition of a set formula; but his intelligence was so keen and his
conviction concerning his artistic mission was so clear, that he was
able to overcome all the obstacles by which he might have been turned
from his right course. His career, thanks to the consistency with which
he worked, became a record of continuous effort to realise an ideal that
lacked neither nobility nor intellectual variety.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--SIDONIA VON BORK

(In the possession of W. Graham Robertson, Esq.)

As an early picture, painted while Burne-Jones was still under the
influence of Rossetti, "Sidonia von Bork" illustrates characteristically
a particular phase of the artist's practice; one of much importance in
the evolution of his art. "Sidonia von Bork" was one of the characters
in a romance called "Sidonia the Sorceress," which was written by a
Swiss clergyman. The book was a favourite of Rossetti's, so that
evidently Burne-Jones was influenced by his master both in his choice
and in his treatment of a subject from its pages. A reprint of the story
was issued by William Morris from the Kelmscott Press.]

It is probable that some of his consistency, and a very large part of
his artistic conviction, came from the manner of his preparation for the
profession in which he attained such exceptional success. Unlike most
artists he did not begin by acquiring a knowledge of the mechanism of
painting, and did not proceed to apply trained technical skill in
experiments intended to determine the direction in which he might
practise profitably in after life. In his case the process was reversed,
for his direction was settled before he had learned even the
rudiments of pictorial practice, and the time which other men would have
given to experiment he devoted to seeking how he would best realise the
ideas that were finally formed in his mind. Tentative work, to test the
popular point of view, he never produced; he began straight away with
what he knew to be his right material, and the only difference which is
to be noticed between his first and his last paintings is a difference
in technical facility. The uncertainties of handling in his earlier
pictures disappeared in those which he painted in later life, but of
mental uncertainty no trace is at any time to be discovered.

Yet the curious fact must be noted that this artist, with his strong
personality, his great gifts, and his absorbing devotion to a splendid
ideal, chose his profession by a kind of afterthought--almost by
accident. There is no record in his case of a boyhood spent in struggles
against a fate which seemed to forbid him all satisfaction of his
dearest aspirations; there is not even evidence that he had any artistic
aspirations at all. He grew up, practically to manhood, before he
discovered that he had either the wish or the capacity to attempt any
form of æsthetic expression, and his powers lay completely dormant
through all those youthful years which have been to most other artists a
time of longing after the apparently unattainable and of striving to
follow the promptings of nature and temperament.

This strange torpidity of the artistic side of his intelligence was, no
doubt, due to the surroundings among which he passed his childhood. He
was born on August 28, 1833, at Birmingham, where there was in those
days little enough to foster a love of art, and in the respectable but
dull atmosphere of a middle-class home he had no chance of any
awakening. His mental activity, however, was shown in the zest with
which he threw himself into the study of the classics during the seven
or eight years that he spent at King Edward's School. He gained at that
time a very thorough knowledge of the classic writings in general and of
classic mythology in particular, which was amplified in after life by
constant reading; and he acquired a student-like habit of research into
the learning of the past which served him well when the time came for
him to picture the fancies that were forming in his mind.

But at first the purpose of his education was to fit him for the walk of
life which his father wished him to follow. He was, it was decided, to
enter the Church, and in 1853, having won a scholarship at Exeter
College, he went up to Oxford ready and willing enough to work for
success in the profession which seemed so well suited to him. He had at
that time no feeling that his real vocation lay in quite another
direction, or that there was any different way in which his studious
mind might be exercised. The idea of taking orders was not uncongenial
to him, and he began his Oxford life in no spirit of rebellion against
the career which had been mapped out by his elders.

At Oxford, however, came his awakening. He found himself in contact
there with quite a new phase of existence, in an atmosphere which was
made doubly impressive by its unlikeness to any that he had previously
known, and among surroundings which by their novelty had a great power
to stimulate his imagination. Under such conditions the expansion of his
mind was unusually rapid, and the arousing of his dormant æsthetic
instincts followed immediately. This latter development of a side of his
nature, of which previously he could have been, at best, only dimly
conscious, was greatly assisted by his friendship with a remarkable man
who had entered Exeter College on the same day that he did, and who had
come to Oxford with the same intention of eventually taking holy orders.
This man, William Morris, was destined to play a most important part in
British art activities, and by his militant æstheticism to bring about
many momentous changes in the public taste; and the chance which brought
him and Edward Burne-Jones together, when they were both at the most
impressionable period of life, was especially fortunate.

The association between the two undergraduates quickly became one of the
closest intimacy. They had mentally much in common, and in them both was
a strain of enthusiasm and poetic fantasy which was an inheritance from
a Celtic ancestry--they were both Welshmen by descent--and by which
their whole attitude to modern existence was determined. Morris had,
perhaps, the more vehement personality and the greater share of the
fighting instinct, while Burne-Jones was more of a dreamer and readier
to occupy himself with abstract fancies; but these small differences of
temperament made their friendship the more mutually valuable, and
helped appreciably to increase the influence which the one had on the
other. At any rate, these days at Oxford saw the beginning of a kind of
mental partnership which gave ultimately to the world a great artist and
a brilliant leader of a wide art movement which has since done much to
alter the whole spirit of domestic decoration in this country.

A more immediate effect of the intimacy between Morris and Burne-Jones
was, however, the weakening of the intention which had brought them to
the university. The more they dreamed and talked the further their idea
of finding a career in the Church receded, and the stronger grew the
desire which both of them felt for the pursuit of some form of art.
While they were thus hesitating over their plans for the future,
Burne-Jones received a sort of revelation which fixed finally his
half-formed intention to become a painter. He saw by chance some works
by Rossetti, an illustration to a poem by William Allingham and a
water-colour, "Dante's celebration of Beatrice's Birthday," and these,
with some notable Pre-Raphaelite pictures, like Holman Hunt's "Light of
the World" and "The Christian Priest escaping from the Druids," which
were then at Oxford, gave him a veritable inspiration. For Rossetti in
particular he conceived immediately a passionate adoration, and to sit
at the feet of such a master seemed to him the noblest aim in life. From
that moment, indeed, his fate was decided, though some little time had
yet to elapse before his dreams could be realised and his plans
could be put into working shape.

[Illustration: PLATE III.--SPONSA DI LIBANO

(Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

The first idea for the "Sponsa di Libano" was embodied in one of a
series of pencil designs from the "Song of Solomon," which were prepared
by Burne-Jones in 1876. This picture, the only one out of the series
which he actually completed pictorially, was exhibited at the New
Gallery in 1891. The motive of the composition is explained in the text
which the original drawing illustrated: "Awake, O North Wind; and come,
thou South; blow upon my garden that the spices thereof may flow out."
In the treatment of the subject the artist's poetic fancy and sense of
decorative arrangement are particularly well displayed.]

For the abandonment of all the ideas which had brought him to the
university was no small matter and not to be lightly undertaken. He had
to think of the disappointment at home which such action on his part
would cause, and he had also to consider what would be his own position
while he was preparing himself for a profession of which he had not so
far had the smallest practical experience. So, with little heart in his
work, he went on reading for his degree until the winter of 1855, when
he came up to London with the intention of seeing in the flesh the man
whom he had hitherto worshipped afar off. He was introduced to Rossetti
at the house of Mr. Vernon Lushington, and by the kindly painter, who
discerned the promise in the young man's tentative drawings, he was
given the heartiest encouragement. A little later he laid before
Rossetti all his hopes and fears, his doubts whether or not he would be
right in leaving Oxford with the purpose which had taken him there still
unfulfilled, and his desire to devote himself irrevocably to the
artistic calling; and instead of suggestions of such compromises as
prudence might have dictated, he received advice to lose no time in
entering upon the career for which he was plainly destined by nature and
inclination.

Rossetti's interest in his young admirer was no momentary matter; he
backed up the advice he had offered by taking him as a pupil and by
aiding him in many ways to gain a footing in the art world. When
Burne-Jones, having at last shaken the dust of Oxford off his feet,
settled in London early in 1856, he found Rossetti quite ready to
supervise his education and to lead him to that fuller knowledge of art
practice which he so sorely lacked. The method of education adopted
departed very definitely from accustomed lines; it did not involve
attendance at any art school, and it imposed no prolonged course of
drawing from antique figures or of painting still-life studies from
groups of ill-assorted objects. On the contrary, the pupil was
encouraged to begin at what would be considered by academic teachers
the wrong end of things--to struggle, all unversed as he was in
technicalities, with the difficulties of creative effort. Rossetti's
studio was thrown open to him so that he might watch the progress of
the pictures which were on the easel, and a number of the master's
drawings and studies were lent to him to help him in his work at home;
but what training he received was more in the nature of sympathetic
guidance in his attempts at self-expression than of formal direction
along the lines of a recognised school system. Its good effects were
shown in the manner of the young man's development and in the rapid
growth of his individuality; its bad effects in the persistence of
defects of draughtsmanship and brushwork, which were overcome at last by
his extraordinary industry and dogged determination to master all the
difficulties of his craft.

To his care and advice concerning his pupil's manner of working Rossetti
added consideration for his financial position. Burne-Jones, with but
slender resources and with little chance as yet of earning the means of
support, was having a somewhat hard struggle, which Rossetti did his
best to relieve by introducing him to friends who would interest
themselves in him, and by helping him to get such work as he was capable
of carrying out. One important commission was obtained about the end of
1856, and this commission deserves special mention because it gave
Burne-Jones his first experience in a branch of design in which he was
destined to become an acknowledged master. Messrs. Powell, the
glass-makers, who were making great efforts to improve the quality of
stained glass, had applied to Rossetti for a design for a window. He
declined to undertake this work, and recommended his pupil instead; and
Burne-Jones accordingly prepared a design which was not only accepted
by the firm but enthusiastically approved by Ruskin, who was, so
Rossetti declared in a letter written at the time, "driven wild with
joy" by the merit and quality of the work. This cartoon was followed
during the next three or four years by several others drawn for the same
firm.

Much that is important in the record of the painter's life is to be
assigned to this short period between the beginning of 1857 and the end
of 1860. In addition to his designs for stained glass, he produced a
large number of pen-and-ink and water-colour drawings, and made his
first experiments in oil-painting; and he took part in the decoration of
the library of the Oxford Union, an ambitious scheme entered into by
Rossetti at the suggestion of Mr. Woodward, the architect of the
building, and carried out, despite many unexpected difficulties, by
Rossetti himself and a band of enthusiastic young artists. These
decorations, which unfortunately fell into a condition of hopeless decay
soon after they were completed, took some six months to execute, and he
was engaged upon his share of the work until the early part of 1859. In
the autumn of that year he paid his first visit to Italy and studied
those early Italian masters with whom, as his after work proved, he was
so deeply and intelligently in sympathy. This visit, indeed, brought
about a marked change in his artistic outlook and helped to lead him
away from the Gothic tendencies which he had first shown--probably as a
result of his association with Morris--into a far more pronounced
inclination for the Italian manner of design. He was married in the
summer of 1860 to Miss Georgina Macdonald, about a month after
Rossetti's marriage to Miss Siddal; and in taking this step he certainly
showed that he had confidence in his professional prospects, a
confidence which was justified by the position he had already made for
himself.

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--SIBYLLA DELPHICA

(Manchester Art Gallery)

In this painting of the Delphic oracle Burne-Jones made no attempt to
reconstruct archæologically an incident from classic times. The
symbolism of the subject appealed to him rather than its possibilities
of being represented realistically, and he treated it in a manner
entirely personal, with strength and decision, but with exquisite
tenderness of poetic sentiment as well. The picture has a certain
intensity of feeling that is especially convincing, and its fine
draughtsmanship, splendid colour, and well-considered suggestion of
movement make it technically of very great importance.]

The year 1861 must be particularly noted because it marks the
commencement of an undertaking with which Burne-Jones was closely
associated for the rest of his life. William Morris, who had also left
Oxford in 1856 without waiting to take his degree, had gone for rather
less than a year into the office of George Edmund Street, the well-known
architect, with some idea of adopting that profession; and then,
becoming quickly disillusioned, had after some experiments in painting
settled down for a while to literary work. In 1859 he married and went
to live in a house which had been built for him at Bexley Heath; and it
is said that the difficulty he experienced in getting, for the fitting
up of this house, things which would please his fastidious taste and
gratify his intense love of beauty, induced him to consider whether he
could not actively intervene in the much-needed reformation of the
decorative arts. At any rate, less than two years after his marriage, he
was busy with the details of a scheme which was ambitious enough to
satisfy even his love of big things and in which there were endless
possibilities.

This scheme took definite form towards the end of 1861, when the firm
of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co. was started in Red Lion Square.
Burne-Jones, naturally enough, was an active sympathiser with the plans
of William Morris, and he showed his sympathy in the most practical
manner by putting his talents as a designer at the disposal of the firm.
From that time onwards he produced in ever-increasing numbers designs
for all kinds of decorative work, stained glass, tapestries,
embroideries, book illustration, &c., in which his amazing fertility of
imagination and exquisite powers of expression had the fullest scope.
The sum total of the work, for which he was responsible during the
period of nearly forty years over which his intimate connection with the
Morris business extended, was almost incredibly large, and proves
convincingly the strenuousness of his lifelong effort.

For it must be remembered that this mass of decorative work did not by
any means represent the whole of his achievement, but was, in fact,
brought into existence in the intervals of his not less remarkable
activity as a picture painter. The number of his finished pictures in
different mediums was about two hundred, and his cartoons for stained
glass alone make a list of a thousand or more; when to these are added
his designs for other purposes, his sketches and studies, and the rough
notes by which he gave the first visible shape to the mental images
which he proposed to put later on into a completed form, the result
arrived at is simply bewildering. Only by the most unremitting industry
could he have done so much, and only a man with an abnormally prolific
imagination and extraordinary powers of invention could have kept up as
he did the high standard of his art.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--THE MILL

(South Kensington Museum)

This picture is one of those on which Burne-Jones worked at intervals
for several years. Commenced in 1870, and taken up and set aside time
after time, it was not exhibited until 1882, when it appeared at the
Grosvenor Gallery. It is an example, and a very attractive one, of the
daintier side of the artist's practice, a decorative composition planned
with masterly restraint and with a wholly sympathetic understanding of
the charm of pure and unforced sentiment. It has both grace and
distinction.]

The pictorial work of Burne-Jones during the earlier 'sixties marked
well the manner in which he was finding his way to the full avowal of
his artistic creed. At first he was, as might have been expected,
frankly inclined to imitate Rossetti, and to follow closely in methods
and sentiment the master whom he worshipped and from whom he had
received such invaluable assistance. But gradually this influence waned,
as increasing confidence in his own powers enabled him to assert more
clearly his individual view of his æsthetic responsibilities, and as the
widening of his experience opened up to him fresh aspects of the
artistic problems with which he had to deal. His development was, no
doubt, much assisted by a second visit which he paid to Italy in the
spring of 1862, a visit in which he had as his companion Ruskin, with
whom he was by then on terms of intimacy. He stayed first at Milan and
then went on to Venice, where he remained for some while making copies
of Tintoretto and other masters for Ruskin, and studying for his own
instruction and enjoyment the works of the earlier masters generally and
of Carpaccio particularly.

During these earlier years he confined himself almost entirely to
working in water-colours, though by his way of using the medium he
gained technical results which had more the strength and richness of
oils than the delicate transparency of water-colour. The few essays he
made in oil-painting at this time were not pictures for exhibition
purposes but pure decorations, like the panels for a painted coffer
designed by William Morris, and a triptych, with the "Annunciation" as
the central panel, and the "Adoration of the Magi" on the wings, which
was commissioned by Mr. Bodley for St. Paul's Church at Brighton.
Definite recognition of the position he had gained among the younger
water-colourists came at the beginning of 1864, when he was elected,
with Fred Walker, an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water
Colours. He was advanced to full membership of the Society in 1868, but
resigned in 1870 because a foolish accusation of impropriety was brought
against one of the compositions he exhibited. He returned, however, in
1886 and remained a member till his death.

By the paintings he showed in the gallery of the "Old Society" he much
increased his reputation among discriminating art lovers as an artist of
no ordinary importance. People who had known nothing of his work before
found something so new in manner and so distinctive in purpose in the
achievements of this creator of poetic fantasies that he was given more
attention than usually comes to a man who sets before the public
things of an unaccustomed type. That he amply deserved this attention
cannot be questioned, for already he had acquired sufficient command
over the technicalities of water-colour to enable him to put into
a quite convincing form fancies which needed particular delicacy of
interpretation. Of course, he had still very much to learn--no one knew
better than he did how necessary was strenuous labour to overcome his
deficiencies as a craftsman--but his deep sincerity gave character and
meaning to his paintings, and the poetic beauty of his pictorial
inventions fully excused what defects there were in his executive
methods.

Indeed, to this early period can be assigned several of the works on
which his reputation rests most securely to-day--his "Fair Rosamond,"
for instance, his first painting of "The Annunciation," a subject which
he treated more than once, and his exquisite picture of "The Merciful
Knight," in which there was no trace left of Rossetti's direction, but
instead a clear expression of a quite personal view of art. No better
proof could have been given of the strength of his character than was
afforded by the rapidity with which he found his own way, and by the
completeness of his emancipation from the influence of a man who was
both his master and his friend--an influence which plainly dominated him
when he painted his earliest water-colours of "Clara von Bork" and
"Sidonia von Bork," both of which were entirely in Rossetti's manner.
But in the three or four years which intervened between the production
of these two little pictures and the completion of the far more
ambitious composition, "The Merciful Knight," he had learned the secret
of his own powers, and he had found how unnecessary it was for him to
lean for support upon any one else.

With this knowledge of himself, and with this consciousness of his
capacity to take an independent position in the art world, came an
increase of his activity as a painter. His water-colours became more
numerous and more important, and he began to paint in oils several large
pictures which he worked at with characteristic patience, setting them
aside often for quite considerable periods and returning to them every
now and again as opportunity offered. His manner of working, indeed,
showed plainly the fertility of his mind; new ideas occurred to him in
rapid succession, and his habit was to put them into a first rough shape
on paper or canvas and to leave them to be carried to completion by slow
stages with often long intervals between. One result of his method was
that he frequently repeated the same subject with variations in
treatment that were the outcome of some fresh consideration of the
motive--each repetition, however, was an independent conception, not a
mere reproduction of what he had done before.

But there was another result which must be noted, because it has to be
taken into account in any attempt to make a chronological list of his
paintings or to define the character of his art at different
periods--the works he exhibited were not put before the public in
anything like the order of their production. Sometimes a picture which
had been painted only a few months before was shown with one which had
been for years in his studio awaiting some comparatively small additions
to bring it to absolute completeness; sometimes all the things he
exhibited in a particular year were new works; sometimes old ones which
had been taken up and put aside over and over again. Consequently, it
is useless to try to classify his productions exactly, and it is
hopeless to base any theories about his development as an artist upon
the sequence of his public appearances. All that can be said is that his
evolution was steady and progressive, and that his apparent reversions
now and again to his earlier manner were due not to any halting in his
conviction but simply to the fact that some piece of work which had been
lying by, possibly for years, had at last been finished and exhibited.
Practically the only periods which can be recognised in his art are the
comparatively brief one when he was definitely under Rossetti's
influence, and the far longer one when he was working out his own
destiny unassisted. A certain inclination towards Rossetti's colour
feeling he retained for some while after he had freed himself of the
technical mannerisms which he derived from his master, and for nearly
twenty years traces of this colour sympathy can be detected, but for the
rest of his career he was as individual in his management of colour as
he was in design or in the sentiment of his work.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--KING COPHETUA AND THE BEGGAR MAID

(The Tate Gallery)

The old story of the king who succumbed to the charms of a simple beggar
maid has inspired many artists, but none have rivalled Burne-Jones in
appreciation of the artistic possibilities of the subject. His picture
on its appearance at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884 set the seal on his
reputation, and put an end to whatever doubts remained then in the
public mind as to his right to serious consideration. It is in many ways
the finest of all his works, the most ambitious and the most exacting in
the technical problems presented, and it is certainly the most notable
in accomplishment.]

This point needs to be elaborated for the sake of clearing up any
misapprehensions which might arise from his more or less erratic way of
exhibiting his work. As an example, when he exhibited for the first time
in 1864 in the gallery of the Royal Society of Painters in Water
Colours, he showed the "Fair Rosamond," painted in 1862, with the
"Annunciation" and "The Merciful Knight," both of which belong to 1863;
but in 1865 he sent "A Knight and a Lady," finished just before the
exhibition opened, "Green Summer," painted in 1863, and "The
Enchantments of Nimue," which was one of the things he produced in 1861
while he was still frankly and unreservedly an imitator of Rossetti.
Such an inversion in the order in which his works were set before the
public might cause some perplexity to students of his art if they did
not realise what was his custom in this matter.

He exhibited in the gallery of the Royal Water Colour Society in 1869 a
painting, "The Wine of Circe," which was not only the most important
work he had produced up to that time but is also to be counted as one of
the most admirable of all his performances; and he showed there in 1870
two other notable works, "Love Disguised as Reason" and "Phyllis and
Demophoon." It was over this last painting that the dispute arose which
led to his resignation of his membership of the Society; and one of the
results of this dispute was that for a space of seven years hardly any
of his pictures were seen in public. Indeed, the only things he
exhibited during this period were a couple of water-colours, "The Garden
of the Hesperides" and "Love among the Ruins," which appeared at the
Dudley Gallery in 1873. Both were important additions to the list of his
achievements, and the "Love among the Ruins" especially was a painting
of exquisite beauty and significance. He repeated this subject in oil
some twenty years later, because the original water-colour had been
damaged somewhat seriously, and was not, as he considered, capable of
repair.

The opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 gave him his first great
opportunity of setting before the mass of art lovers his claims to
special attention. Hitherto he had counted in the minds of a few men of
taste and sound judgment as an artist of remarkable gifts who promised
before long to take high rank in his profession, but by the larger
public interested in art matters he was practically undiscovered. That
he would have won his way step by step to the position he deserved
cannot be doubted; if there had been no break in his activity as an
exhibiting painter his successive contributions to the Royal Water
Colour Gallery could not have failed to make him widely known. But his
reappearance at the Grosvenor Gallery was so dramatic, and so convincing
in its proof of the amazing development of his powers, that he leaped
at one bound into the place among the greatest of his artistic
contemporaries, which he was able to hold for the rest of his life
without the possibility of dispute.

For he had not been idle during this seven years of abstention from
exhibitions; the period had been rather one of strenuous activity and
unceasing production. It saw the completion of several important
canvases on which he had laboured long and earnestly, and it saw the
commencement of many others which were in later years to be added to the
list of his more memorable achievements. In some ways, indeed, it was a
fortunate break; it saved him from the need to strive year by year to
get pictures finished for specific exhibitions, and it allowed him time
for calm reflection about the schemes he desired to work out. It freed
him, too, from the temptation--one to which all artists are exposed--to
modify the character of his art so that his pictures might be
sufficiently effective in the incongruous atmosphere of the ordinary
public gallery. He was able to form his style and develop his
individuality in the manner he thought best; and then at last to come
before the public fully matured and with his æsthetic purpose absolutely
defined.

When the first fruits of this long spell of assiduous effort were seen
at the Grosvenor Gallery, Burne-Jones became instantly a power in the
art world. The judgment of the few connoisseurs who had hailed "The
Wine of Circe" and "Love among the Ruins" as works of the utmost
significance, and as revelations of real genius, received wide
endorsement; and though some people who were out of sympathy with the
spirit of his art were quite ready to attack what they did not
understand, their voices were scarcely heard amid the general chorus of
approval. Indeed, for such pictures as "The Days of Creation," "The
Mirror of Venus," and "The Beguiling of Merlin," exhibited in 1877;
"Laus Veneris," "Chant d'Amour," and "Pan and Psyche," which with some
others were shown in 1878; the series of four subjects from the story of
"Pygmalion and the Image," and the magnificent "Annunciation," in 1879;
and that exquisite composition, "The Golden Stairs," which was his sole
contribution to the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880, nothing but enthusiastic
approval was to be expected from all sincere art lovers; to carp at work
so noble in conception and so personal in manner implied an entire want
of artistic discretion.

There were two exhibitions at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1881. In the
summer one Burne-Jones was not represented, but the winter show included
a number of his studies and decorative drawings, among them the large
circular panel, "Dies Domini," a water-colour of rare beauty which can
be reckoned as one of the most admirable of his designs. In 1882,
however, he showed "The Mill," "The Tree of Forgiveness," "The Feast of
Peleus," and several smaller paintings; and in 1883 that splendid piece
of symbolism, "The Wheel of Fortune," and "The Hours." The following
year is memorable for the appearance of the important canvas, "King
Cophetua and the Beggar Maid," and the less ambitious but even more
fascinating "Wood Nymph," in both of which the artist touched quite his
highest level of achievement, and gave the most ample proof of the
maturity of his powers.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--DANAE (The Tower of Brass)

(Glasgow Corporation Art Gallery)

Like the "Sibylla Delphica" this canvas shows how Burne-Jones was
accustomed to treat subjects from the classic myths in the mediæval
spirit to which he inclined by habit and association. In his
illustration of a subject from the story of Danae, where she stands
watching in wonder the building of the tower of brass which was to be
her prison, he has looked at Greek tradition in a way that was partly
his own and partly a reflection of William Morris; but the result is
none the less persuasive because it does not conform to the Greek
convention.]

His election as an Associate of the Royal Academy came in 1885. That he
coveted this particular distinction can scarcely be said; indeed, he was
at first unwilling to accept it, and it was only in response to a
personal request from Leighton that he finally decided to take his place
in the ranks of the Associates. But he exhibited a picture at Burlington
House in 1886, "The Depths of the Sea," and then, feeling that his work
was unsuited for the Academy galleries, he sent nothing else there, and
in 1893 resigned his Associateship. His contributions to the Grosvenor
Gallery in 1886 were "The Morning of the Resurrection," "Sibylla
Delphica," and "Flamma Vestalis"; and in 1887 "The Baleful Head," "The
Garden of Pan," and some other canvases.

After this year he ceased to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery, as he was
one of the chief members of the group of artists who supported Mr.
Comyns Carr and Mr. C. E. Hallé in the founding of the New Gallery, and
he sent there nearly all the works he produced during the rest of his
life. The most important exceptions were the magnificent "Briar Rose"
series of pictures, which were shown in 1890 by Messrs. Agnew at their
gallery in Bond Street, and "The Bath of Venus," which went straight
from the artist's studio to the Glasgow Institute in 1888.

The first exhibition at the New Gallery was opened in 1888, and it
included several of his oil-paintings, among them "The Tower of Brass,"
an enlarged repetition of an earlier picture, and two canvases, "The
Rock of Doom" and "The Doom Fulfilled," from the "Story of Perseus"
series, to which also belonged "The Baleful Head," shown in the previous
year. To the succeeding shows there he sent much besides that can be
taken as representing his soundest convictions. There were the large
water-colour, "The Star of Bethlehem," and the "Sponsa di Libano," in
1891; "The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness" and "The Heart of the Rose"
in 1893; "Vespertina Quies" and the oil version of "Love among the
Ruins" in 1894; "The Wedding of Psyche" in 1895; "Aurora" and "The Dream
of Launcelot at the Chapel of the San Graal" in 1896; "The Pilgrim of
Love" in 1897; and "The Prioress' Tale" and "St. George" in 1898. In all
of these his consistent pursuit of definite ideals, his love of poetic
fantasy, and his admirable perception of the decorative possibilities of
the subjects he selected are as evident as in any of his earlier works;
as years went on he relaxed neither his steadfastness of purpose nor his
sincerity of method. To the last he remained unspoiled by success and
unaffected by the popularity which came to him in such ample measure--it
may be safely said that with his temperament and his artistic creed he
would have continued on the course he had marked out for himself even if
the effect of his persistence had been to rouse the bitterest opposition
of the public, and he was as little inclined to trade on his success as
he would have been to tout for attention if his efforts had been
ignored.

There was no waning of his powers as his career drew towards its close.
It was not his fate to be compelled by failing vitality to be content
with achievements that lacked the force and freshness by which the work
of his vigorous maturity was distinguished, for he died before advancing
years had begun in any way to dull his faculties. Only a few weeks after
the opening of the 1898 exhibition at the New Gallery he was seized with
a sudden illness, which had a fatal termination on the morning of June
17. Really robust health he had never enjoyed, and on several occasions
serious breakdowns had hampered his activity; but his devotion to his
art was so sincere, and his determination so strong, that these
interruptions did not perceptibly affect the continuity of his work.
Towards the end of his life, however, he suffered from an affection of
the heart, and the demands which he made upon his strength helped, no
doubt, to exhaust his vitality. At the time of his death he was striving
to complete one of the most important and ambitious pictures he ever
planned--"Arthur in Avalon," a vast canvas which, even in its unfinished
condition, must be reckoned as an amazing performance, and worthy of a
distinguished place in the record of modern art.

One of the most interesting things in the life-story of Edward
Burne-Jones is the manner of his advance, within some twenty years only,
from a position of obscurity to one of exceptional authority in the
British school. The young student, who in 1855 had just discovered his
vocation and was beginning to feel his way under the guidance of
Rossetti, had become in 1877 one of the most discussed of British
artists, and had with dramatic suddenness entered into the company of
the greatest of the nineteenth-century painters. With no effort on his
part to attract attention, without having recourse to any of those
devices by which in the ordinary way popularity is won, he secured,
practically at the first time of asking, all that other men have had to
strive for laboriously through a long period of probation. Although the
few things he exhibited while he was a member of the Royal Water Colour
Society were sufficient to rouse in the few real judges a deep
interest in his future achievement, it was the singular merit of his
contributions to the first exhibition at Grosvenor Gallery that made
him instantly famous. The wider public realised then, and realised most
forcibly, that he was an artist to be reckoned with, and that his work,
whether people liked it or not, could by no means be ignored.

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.--THE ENCHANTMENTS OF NIMUE

(South Kensington Museum)

Painted, like the "Sidonia von Bork," while Burne-Jones was still under
the influence of Rossetti, "The Enchantments of Nimue" is interesting as
an example of his earliest methods. It was finished in 1861, but it was
not exhibited until 1865, when it was hung in the Gallery of the Royal
Society of Painters in Water Colours; it was bought for the South
Kensington Museum in 1896. The painting shows how Nimue "caused Merlin
to pass under a heaving-stone into a grave" by the power of her
enchantments.]

From that time onwards there was for him no looking back. The twenty
years of preparation, which were spent mainly in ceaseless seeking after
completer knowledge and in careful study of the practical details of his
profession, were followed by another twenty years of strenuous
production, in which he worked out more and more effectively the ideas
formed in his extraordinarily active mind. In the series of his
paintings there is a very perceptible advance year by year in technical
facility, but to suggest that they show also a growth of imaginative
power would scarcely be correct, because there seems to have been no
moment in his career when he did not possess in fullest measure the
faculty of poetic invention and the capacity to put his mental images
into an exquisite and persuasive shape. What he acquired as a result of
his exhaustive study was a closer agreement between mind and hand, the
skill to convey to others what he himself felt. But he had no need to
labour to make his intelligence more keen or his fancies more varied;
nature had endowed him with a temperament perfectly adapted for every
demand which he could make upon it in the pursuit of his art.

That he did not at first secure the unanimous approval of art lovers is
scarcely surprising. The markedly individual artist who cares nothing
for popular favour and is more anxious to satisfy his own conscience
than to gather round him possible clients is never likely to become a
favourite offhand. Burne-Jones by the brilliancy of his ability silenced
all opposition long before his death, and gained over the bulk of the
doubters who questioned his right to the admiration he received when he
first began to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery. But for some while the
unusual character of his art caused it to be much misunderstood by
people who had not taken the trouble to analyse his intentions. He was
accused of affectation, of deliberate imitation of the early Italians;
he was attacked for his indifference to realism and for his decorative
preferences. Even the genuineness of his poetic feeling was suspected,
and his love of symbolism was ridiculed as the aberration of a warped
mind. Much of this misconception was cleared away by the collected
exhibition of his works which was held at the New Gallery in the winter
of 1892-1893, for this show, by bringing together the best of his
productions and by summing up all phases of his practice, proved
emphatically that he had been as sincere and logical in his aims as he
had been consistent in his expression. It was no longer possible to
attack him out of mere prejudice; the verdict given fifteen years before
on his art by those who understood him best was seen to be just. When a
second collection was shown at the New Gallery--a memorial exhibition
arranged in 1898, a few months after his death--few people remained who
were prepared to dispute his mastery.

It is fortunate that justice should have been done to him by his
contemporaries and that there should have been really so little delay in
the wider acknowledgment of his claims. If appreciation had been
withheld from him while he lived, if it had been his fate to secure only
a posthumous reputation, there would have been some diminution of his
influence, and his art would have lost some of its authority. But as a
right estimate of his position was arrived at during his lifetime, when
he was at the height of his activity as an exponent of an exceptionally
intelligent æsthetic creed, he was able to make his beliefs effective in
bringing about the conversion of a large section of the public to a
truer understanding of the value of decorative qualities in pictorial
art. He proved emphatically that decoration does not imply, as is
popularly supposed, the abandonment of the characteristics which make a
picture interesting; he showed that a subject can be legitimately
treated so that it engages fully the sympathies of the average man, and
yet can be kept from any descent into obviousness or commonplace
conventionality. The painted story in his hands was no trivial anecdote;
it was a motive by means of which he conveyed not only moral lessons but
artistic truths as well, something didactically valuable but at the same
time capable of appealing to the senses with exquisite daintiness and
charm.

Indeed, he can best be summed up as a teacher who clothed the lessons of
life with noble beauty and with dignity that was commanding without
being forbidding. There was human sympathy in everything he painted--a
tender, gentle sentiment which escaped entirely the taint of
sentimentality and which, tinged as it always was with a kind of quiet
sadness, never became morbid or unwholesome. He was too truly a poet to
dwell upon the ugly side of existence, just as he was too sincerely a
decorator to insist unnecessarily upon common realities. That he
searched deeply into facts is made clear by the mass of preparatory work
he produced to guide him in his paintings, by the enormous array of
drawings and studies which he executed to satisfy the demand he made
upon himself for exactness and accuracy in the building up of his
designs. But in his studies, as in his pictures, the intention to
express a personal feeling is never absent. He selected, modified,
re-arranged as his temperament suggested; he omitted unimportant things
and amplified those which were of dominant interest; he sought for what
was helpful to his artistic purpose and passed by what would have seemed
in wrong relation, consistently keeping in view the lesson which he
desired to teach. It can be frankly admitted that a certain mannerism
resulted from his way of working, but this mannerism was by no means the
dull formality into which many artists descend when they substitute a
convention for inspiration; it was rather a revelation of his
personality and of that belief in the rightness of his own judgment
which counts for so much in the development of the really strong man.
Except for the short time in which he was influenced by Rossetti, his
life was spent in illustrating an entirely independent view of artistic
responsibilities; and it would be difficult now to question this
independence with the wonderful series of his paintings available to
prove how earnestly and how seriously he strove to realise his ideals in
art.


    The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London
    The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh





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