Listen now, Great Pan he calls us

Pre-Raphaelite British artist and designer, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham on 28th August 1833. As a Pre-Raphaelite artist, Burne-Jones’ was influenced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He later found his own style, and was persuaded to show eight oil paintings at the Grosvenor Galllery (at the time, a new rival to the Royal Academy). One of these was “The Beguiling of Merlin” (see left). This oil on canvas  was painted from 1874-1876. It is held by the Board of Trustees of the National Museum & Galleries of Merseyside (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight).

Burne-Jones attended the Birmingham School of Art from 1848-1852, before studying theology at Exeter College, Oxford where he became a friend of the poet, William Morris. The two along with a small group became known as the “Birmingham Set”, who formed a close and intimate society, which they called “The Brotherhood”. Together with Morris they worked on a wide range of decorative arts as the “Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Company”.

Burne-Jones’ private life became a tricky situation which in Facebook terms could be described as “it’s complicated”. Burne-Jones had a torrid relationship with his Greek model Maria Zambaco which ended with her trying to commit suicide by throwing herself in Regent’s Canal. Added to this, after marrying the mother of his three children, Georgiana, the tight-knit group of the Morris’ and Burne-Jones’ families became entangled within themselves.  Morris had an affair with Georgiana, whilst Morris’ wife Jane had fallen in love with fellow artist, Rossetti. Although the Burne-Jones’ and the Morris’ families stayed married, their affairs and fondness for each other never subsided and they ended up buying properties next door to each other to eke out their remaining days.

The above is “The Garden of Pan” (1886-1887). The Greek deity Pan, God of Flocks and Herds plays the kingfisher and dragonflies, creatures known for their darting speed who stop to listen to the sweet sound. (Felton Bequest, National Gallery of Victoria).

Regardless of his personal life, there have been a couple of major Burne-Jones exhibitions including:

  • Barbican Art Gallery, London (1989)
  • Tate Britain on British Aestheticism and Symbolism (1997)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1998),
  • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (1998); and the
  • Musée d’Orsay, Paris, (1998)
  • All of the last three celebrating the 100 years of art by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet, A.R.A. who died on 17 June, 1898.

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