Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98)

Burne-Jones' first training was as an engineer, but by the time he reached Oxford University in 1853, he saw his calling in the Church. At Oxford, he formed a close friendship with William Morris, and with him he turned his career towards art. It was Ruskin, however, who impressed upon them the concept that they could express their idealist values through art. Burne-Jones was mostly self-taught as an artist, but he did receive informal tuition from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, after leaving Oxford without graduating.

In 1855 Burne-Jones and Morris toured the French cathedrals and it was this trip that fired him with enthusiasm for the art of the Middle Ages, expressed in the subjects of his drawings and designs for stained glass. Furthermore, he developed his painting technique through copying from fifteenth-century Italian artists, introduced to him by the writings Ruskin. In 1857-8 he collaborated with members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in painting the Morte d'Arthur murals in the Oxford Union debating chamber. In 1861, he helped Morris to found Morris & Co., the design company for which he produced many ideas, especially for stained glass.

From the 1860s Burne-Jones focused more intensely on his painting style, moving away from work in the stained glass workshop and developing his watercolour technique. This move brought his work before a wide public for the first time, and attracted wealthy new patrons such as businessmen, MPs and shipowners.

His distinctive, mannered painting style reached its peak in King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid (1884, Tate Gallery, London), and had a significant influence on subsequent Symbolist art.

'I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream, of something that never was, never will be — in a light better than any that ever shone — in a land no-one can define or remember, only desire'.

Related galleries