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Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham, the son of the owner of a small framing business. His mother died within a week of his birth. He was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, and, since he was gifted at drawing, attended a government School of Design on three evenings a week since 1848. In 1853 he went to Exeter College, Oxford, with the intention of eventually entering the Church. There he met William Morris, who was to become his lifelong friend and an associate in a number of decorative projects.
As the result of seeing Rossetti’s works, Burne-Jones and Morris became late recruits to Pre-Raphaelitism. Early in 1856, Burne-Jones met Ruskin and Rossetti and managed to persuade the latter to accept him as a pupil; he and Morris left Oxford and started their artistic careers under Rossetti’s guidance. His earliest paintings are carried out in watercolor. Burne-Jones produced a number of versions of the ballad subject Fair Rosamond: Fair Rosamond and Queen Eleonor. This story was very popular with the Pre-Raphaelites and had already been used by Rossetti and Hughes.
Meanwhile the friends founded a decorating business, the company William Morris & Co. Burne-Jones was one of the directors and his prolific inspiration and rapidity of execution made him of crucial value for the firm. While his painting moved inevitably away from the influence of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites, his decorative work remained a continuing contribution to the evolution of Pre-Raphaelite design. He made designs of tapestries and stained glass windows. A number of the decorative designs were turned into paintings, rather than vice versa. For example, King Mark and La Belle Iseult (1862) originated as a stained glass design and is in fact painted on top of a stained-glass carton.
From the mid-1860s, Burne-Jones's paintings become larger and more monumental, suggesting his interest in Botticelli, Mantegna and Michelangelo. Burne-Jones was an extremely hard worker and, in consequence, a very prolific artist. His Pre-Raphaelite pieces form a relatively small part of his total work. Some art historians consider Burne-Jones's Pre-Raphaelite phase an attack of ‘Pre-Raphaelite measles’, identifying him rather as a romantic, a symbolist and an aesthete. Nevertheless, the influence of Rossetti was crucial to the development of Burne-Jones’s poetic imagination. His early works, painted under the personal guidance of Rossetti from similar medieval and literary sources, or resulting from Burne-Jones’s own fascination with fifteenth century Florentine art are a valuable contribution to PreRaphaelitism. And, of course, his paintings influenced the Aesthetic movement and Art Nouveau design to a great extend. In 1890, Burne-Jones was elected to the Royal Academy, but resigned only three years later.
Katie Lewis. A very Whistlerian picture, a 'harmony in orange', by the artist who sided with Ruskin at the Ruskin-Whistler trial. Katie Lewis was the recipient of the famous 'Letters to Katie' and she was the daughter of Sir George Lewis, an eminent lawyer.
See: Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Portrait of Katie Lewis.
(1833-1898) Edward Coley Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham on August 28, 1833; his mother, Elizabeth Coley, died only a few days later. Through his father Edward Jones, a frame-maker, and other relatives, Edward 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. There he met William Morris, with whom he indulged in a passion for all things medieval and for the writings of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin; through the University Printer Thomas Combe, they were introduced to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. With others of a like mind, they contributed to the short-lived Oxford and Cambridge Magazine in 1856. Both had intended to enter the Church but decided to become artists after making a tour of northern French cathedrals in 1855. In November 1856 they moved into rooms in London at 17 Red Lion Square which had formerly been occupied by Rossetti, from whom Burne-Jones (as he now styled himself) took some informal lessons. They were also the leading figures in the campaign of mural painting in the Oxford Union debating chamber in 1857-1858. Decoration of the rooms at Red Lion Square and in Morris’s new home, Red House at Bexley, from 1859, included the making and painting of Gothic Revival furniture. Burne-Jones was one of the founding members in 1861 of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company, and went on to become the firm’s principal designer of stained glass, producing more than five hundred individual figure subjects. His early work as an artist was chiefly in pen and watercolour, much influenced by Rossetti, but it also benefited from contact with other artists such as George Frederic Watts. After visits to Italy in 1859 (with Val Prinsep) and in 1862 (with Ruskin and with his wife Georgiana, whom he had married in 1860), his own style, which embraced classical as well as Pre-Raphaelite traits, soon emerged. Large watercolours such as The Merciful Knight (1863, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) marked his election as an Associate of the Old Water Colour Society in 1864. The furor over a male nude subject, Phyllis and Demophoön (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), led to his resignation from the society in 1870, and for the next seven years he worked in virtual seclusion at The Grange, Fulham, in west London. In the same year he survived a scandal over an affair with his model Maria Zambaco. Visits to Italy in 1871 and 1873 increased his knowledge of the High Renaissance, which infused paintings such as The Mirror of Venus (Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon) and The Beguiling of Merlin (Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums of Liverpool), finally shown to great acclaim at the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. His later paintings were exhibited there and at the New Gallery from 1888, as well as through the dealers Agnew & Sons. Even with the help of his studio assistant T.M. Rooke (1842-1942), many large-scale canvases were never finished, including the biggest, The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon (Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico). An abiding interest in the decorative arts led to the design of jewelry, mosaics, and needlework, as well as tapestries – especially the Holy Grail series (1890-1895, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and elsewhere) – for the Morris workshop at Merton Abbey, and book illustration for Morris’s Kelmscott Press starting in 1891. Many such works were shown at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Although elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1885, he exhibited only once and resigned in 1893; other honours included the Légion d’Honneur, following his success at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, and the award of a baronetcy in 1894. He died of heart failure on June 17, 1898, and his ashes rest at the church in Rottingdean, Sussex, where he kept a holiday home.