Yes – I know….
You see, I’m reading The Last Pre-Raphaelite by Fiona MacCarthy. About a third of the way through her narrative, the author informs us that in 1865, Alice, the elder sister of Burne-Jones’s wife Georgiana – Georgie to all who knew her – married a young artist named John Lockwood Kipling. Kipling had secured a teaching post in Bombay, so he and Alice relocated there shortly after their wedding:
John Lockwood’s career prospered, and on 30 December 1865 they had their first child, the boy who was named Rudyard after Lake Rudyard in Staffordshire, hallowed place where his parents had first met.
I love discovering interrelatedness among great artists and thinkers. My favorite instance of this felicitous phenomenon concerns Ralph Vaughan Williams. His mother Margaret Susan Wedgwood was the great-granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood of pottery fame; Charles Darwin was the composer’s great-uncle.
The Last Pre-Raphaelite is subtitled, ‘Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination.’ Some of us can never get enough of those Victorians: their natures seem so varied, so contradictory, so extremely pragmatic and yet oftentimes downright dreamy. In her preface, Fiona MacCarthy says this of Burne-Jones:
He had become the licensed escapist of his period, perpetrating an art of ancient myths, magical landscapes, insistent sexual yearnings, that expressed deep psychological needs for his contemporaries. His paintings released forces half-hidden in the deep recesses of the Victorian imagination.
The artists who comprised the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were in revolt against what they perceived as the rampant materialism and the relentless moralizing of the age in which they lived. One of their chief aims was to reclaim through their art the spirit, if not the substance, of the Middle Ages – in other words, to go back in time to a period before Raphael, one of the supreme artists of the High Renaissance in Europe. Woven in with this love of the past was a fascination with a past that never was: myths, fairy tales, and legends.
In his art, Edward Burne-Jones strove constantly to attain an ideal of beauty:
‘I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be – in a light better than any light that ever shone – in a land no one can define or remember, only desire – and the forms divinely beautiful.’
The Last Pre-Raphaelite is a leisurely stroll though the life of an artist and the era whose esthetic proclivities he helped to define. I’m on page 208 out of 536 pages, and I wish the book would never end. Fiona McCarthyis a marvelous writer; she’s also done a biography of Burne-Jones’s lifelong friend, fellow artist, and business partner William Morris.
By the by: the American cover (the first one, below) is lovely; the British one, even more so.
As you view these works, I suggest the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams as an accompaniment. This is ‘Romanza,’ the third movement from Symphony Number Five:
Did Burne-Jones achieve his goal of depicting his ‘beautiful romantic dream?’ You decide:
Burne-Jones began work on The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon in 1881 and did not complete the painting until 1898, the year of his death. Many consider it to be his supreme masterpiece:For a comprehensive survey of the works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, go to the site of the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham, England, in 1833.