Friday, June 20, 2008
Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Tuesday was the 110th anniversary of his death, so let’s take a look at the life of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), the English pre-Raphaelite who often wished that he could have been the contemporary of Botticelli.
1. Attending Exeter College (at Oxford) in 1853, Edward Jones met William Morris and the two instantly became friends, referring to each other as Ned and Topsy. The two remained friends for more than 43 years, until Morris’ death. The best friends even brought their families together in 1874 for a joint-family portrait by Frederick Hollyer.
2. Jones may today be as well-known for his long-lasting friendship with William Morris as he is for his art, but he didn’t always have loving people in his life. His mom died only 6 days after Jones was born, and his father became so upset by her death that he couldn’t even bring himself to touch his only child. Jones was raised “by a rather severe Low Church housekeeper,” a sad reality that he escaped by creating a fantastic dreamworld, later reflected in his paintings.
3. College was the pivotal point in Jones’ life. Besides meeting Morris, Jones also became an agnostic (he originally planned to take Holy Orders), began painting, developed a fascination with Arthurian legend (seen in his paintings), and met Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who became Jones’ mentor and friend. Not bad, considering Jones didn’t even complete his course of study at Exeter, though he did later receive an honorary degree (1881) and was made an Honorary Fellow (1883).
4. Like Sir Edward Poynter, Jones married “one of the remarkable MacDonald sisters.” Georgiana MacDonald was training to be a painter when she married Jones in 1860, but after the wedding she switched to woodcuts. Rumor has it that Jones’ good friend Morris also fell for Georgiana, after she was already married to Jones, but she turned him down. Her marriage to Jones was not without its problems, though: Jones had an affair with his model, Maria Zambaco, from 1868 to 1870 that supposedly ended with Zambaco attempting suicide in public. Georgiana also caused Jones to be unhappy about his baronetcy (created in 1894); he told his friends that her contempt for the honor was “withering.”
5. Jones was a highly strung, nervous man who, upon completion of a major work, would suffer a nervous collapse. Although he took the extra surname “Burne” to set himself apart from all the other painters named Jones, he was mostly unknown to the general public until the mid-1870s, since he was reluctant to exhibit in public. A Grosvenor Gallery exhibit in 1877 was his big breakthrough: he exhibited “Mirror of Venus” (above) along with two other paintings and became famous overnight. By the 1880s, he was considered one of the greatest living artists.
6. After two years of declining health, which began with the death of Morris, Jones passed away in 1898. The Prince of Wales made possible a memorial service at Westminster Abbey six days later, the first time such an honor had ever been bestowed on an artist.