Edward Burne Jones

Tate membership brings many benefits and I am grateful to my family for buying me an annual card in a (not very) secret Santa draw last year. We made our first trip to London for a while to visit Tate Modern last week, to test the membership and view the retrospective of Sir Edward Burne Jones.

First to the membership. Everyone warned me that the Private Members Room would be very busy which, arriving late morning, it was. I had also expected it to be a posh London crèche, and it was, so I cannot feel disappointed. I also remembered why I try to avoid London Blockbuster exhibitions – too many exhibits, too many people, too many people standing in front of exhibits discussing their shopping trips or medical ailments and too many mobile phones. All that having been said the exhibition is quite superbly curated. The show is set out in seven rooms tracing the artists life from apprentice to master of large scale ‘exhibition’ and ‘series’ paintings and platforming his talent both as a draughtsman and a designer.

Burne-Jones, The Briar Wood, Tate
Edward Burne Jones, The Briar Wood, 1874-84, The Faringdon Collection.

Sir Edward Burne Jones is an inspiration to all who wish to enjoy success. Not naturally talented and educated away from art schools and academies, he became associated with the Pre Raphaelites and worked very hard to become very good in various media. His main influence was his life long friend and colleague at Oxford University, William Morris. He did much design work which is on show here for the Morris Company. My own preference is his stained glass windows which are to be found all over the world and the exhibition may have been better with more examples.

Burne Jones, stained glass, V&A
Edward Burne Jones, The God of Love and Alceste from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, 1861-64, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Burne Jones’s technical excellence cannot be refuted, especially his later work with its romantic poetic beauty, and he certainly has a huge following arguing his place amongst the great British artists. The problem for me and my objection to the Pre-Raphaelites generally is their rejection of modernity. While the group were rejecting the modernity, striving to return to medieval whimsyness In Britain, across the Channel impressionists, post-impressionists and the avant garde were making great strides forward embracing the modern world, with all its faults, paving the way for the twentieth century.

Tate, golden stairs, Burne jones
The Golden Stairs 1880 Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Tate, London.

What I do like is the poetry of the art. As a great favourite of Sandro Botticelli I see many parallels in Burne Jones. Not just the strength of line and the poetry but also the speed with which both artists lost favour in the times, but to be appreciated later.

On our way home we paid a short visit to see the German fantasist Artist, Martin Eder’s ‘Parasites’, at Damien Hurst’s Newport Street Gallery. Technically very sound but probably not to everyone’s taste.

The Sir Edward Burne Jones show was at the Tate Modern until 24th February so unfortunately closed now.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sorry it was so crowded for you – think I was lucky to go late Friday afternoon. Like you, I liked his bleed into other things eg book design, rather than the subject of his paintings. Not long till Van Gogh, and we are going to Bonnard next Friday.


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