Edward Burne-Jones

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Edward Burne-Jones

English , Aesthetic painter, illustrator, designer and tapestry designer

Born circa 8/28/1833 - Died circa 1898

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BURNE-JONES, the greatest of the second generation Pre-Raphaelites, was born in Bennetts Hill in central Birmingham the 28th August 1833. His mother died within a week of his birth, & his distressed father was unable to physically touch his son as a result. He was brought up by a rather severe Low Church housekeeper. From an early age, therefore, Burne-Jones created his own dream world, to make up for his bleak & unhappy personal circumstances. This dream world lasted all his life, & in his paintings we may still visit it today. He attended King Edward�s Grammar School in Birmingham, where he was a successful pupil academically, & in his last year was head boy. He also attended art classes. Edward Jones, as he then was, became a devout Christian.

He went to Exeter College at the University of Oxford in 1853, & his intention was to take Holy Orders. Here he met his lifelong friend William Morris. They called each other Ned & Topsy. Here they first heard of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They jointly developed a fascination with Arthurian legend. Edward Jones became an agnostic, & art replaced religion in his life. Jones did not stay to take a degree.

In London in the mid 1850s he met his artistic hero Rossetti, who became his mentor, & they were friends until Rossetti�s death in 1882. He also met Holman Hunt. Jones then moved to London, sharing rooms with Morris. He assisted Rossetti in the creation of the unsuccessful mural at the Oxford Union. In 1860 Jones married Georgiana MacDonald, one of the remarkable Macdonald sisters. Another sister married Edward Poynter, a further sister married the ironmaster Alfred Baldwin & was the mother of the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin 1867-1947, & yet another sister was the mother of Rudyard Kipling 1864-1936.

Edward Jones acquired the extra surname Burne to differentiate himself from the legions of Jones�s who painted.

Edward Burne-Jones was a nervous highly-strung individual. He combined a monkish asceticism, a mystical love of ancient legend, & a mischievous sense of humour. He had a classical artistic trait of suffering nervous collapse after the completion of a major work. Georgiana, or Georgie as she was known, was, as well as his wife, the mother he never had, & the manager of his life. They had two children who survived childhood, a son Phillip, & a daughter Margaret. William Morris founded his famous company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkener & Co in 1861. Jones worked as designer of stained glass church windows for the company, virtually to the end of his life. One of his last designs being the magnificent windows of St Phillips Cathedral, in Birmingham. In the early 1860s Jones made his first visit to Italy. In the mid 1860s, he started to gain a reputation as a painter, & to sell some pictures.

In the 1870s Burne-Jones became gradually more successful, though his patrons were a closed circle of wealthy & sophisticated people. He became friendly with the aristocratic artist George Howard, Earl of Carlisle, who produced some excellent drawings of him. His diffidence, & reluctance to exhibit publicly, however, still meant he was unknown to the wider public. In 1877, Burne-Jones was persuaded to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery, & virtually overnight became a famous painter. In the 1880s, he even outshone Millais & Leighton, being regarded as our greatest living artists. In the 1890s his health declined, & the death of William Morris in 1896 was a crushing blow. He had been created a baronet in 1894, but was unhappy about accepting the honour, & he told friends that the contempt of his wife for it was �withering.� Burne-Jones died suddenly at his house at Rottingdean in 1898. He was the most interesting & most loveable of all these great artists, & one of our greatest 19th century painters.

His son Phillip Burne-Jones 1861-1926 was a talented portrait painter.

Obituary of Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, by Paul Ripley.
Victorian Art in Britain.

Christoper Wood, world renowned art historian specializing in the Victorian artists, wrote in to share some fascinating biographical facts with us:

There is a book on the four Macdonald sisters: A Circle of Sisters by Judith Flanders.

They all made remarkable marriages - one married Burne-Jones, another Poynter, another John Kipling (father of Rudyard), and the fourth married Alfred Baldwin, and was mother of Stanley Baldwin.



apprentice of

colleague of

friend of

painted of

teacher of


exhibited at

  • Grosvenor Gallery from 1877

member of

  • Art Workers Guild

student at

  • Exeter College, University of Oxford from 1853
  • King Edward's Grammar School, Birmingham

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Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

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Dear Madam,
If I felt certain about my skill in portraiture I would say yes at once - but my confidence is slight.
I have painted two or three portraits only in my life - and they have been for friends - and they have been gifts too so that they could not well be returned upon my hands - as they perhaps deserved to be.
And I have dismissed from my mind all idea of success in a branch of art that carries with it so much chance of chagrin & disappointment.
I wish I could undertake this for you because your selection of me is a great compliment but I feel uncertain of myself - and my ideas of portraiture are exacting.
Would my advice be of any service to you? If so, would you call one day and bring your little daughter with you.
I could see you on Saturday after about 4 or on Monday at the same time.

Believe me

Yours most truly


Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

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Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

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Image courtesy of Don Kurtz