Childhood & Early Life
Edward Burne-Jones was born Edward Coley Burne Jones on August 28, 1833, in Birmingham, England, to Edward Richard Jones and Elizabeth Coley Jones. His mother was a housewife, who passed away six days after Edward was born. Edward was thus raised by his father and a family housekeeper.
Edward’s father was a frame-maker and he was well regarded in his locality. He was also a religious man and served as the first influence on his son’s life. Edward later defined his housekeeper as an affectionate but a humourless unintellectual local girl.
After finishing his early education, Edward joined King Edward VI Grammar School, in Birmingham. He was 11 years old when he joined the school. By now, he had cultivated a lot of interest in the arts so he enrolled at the ‘Birmingham School of Art’ In 1848 and studied until 1852.
Theology was one of his favourite subjects from his early childhood and he intended to become a church minister. To pursue higher education in theology, he enrolled at ‘Exeter College.’ At ‘Exeter College,’ he came in contact with William Morris, an aspiring artist and poet, and the two bonded over their mutual love for art and poetry.
Edward and William formed a society called ‘The Brotherhood,’ which also included some of Edward’s friends from Birmingham as well. They read poetry together and discussed them. ‘The Brotherhood’ worshipped the middle ages, visited churches and read poets such as John Ruskin.
Around the same time, Edward became acquainted with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, after studying and admiring his poems and artworks for many years. Rossetti was invited as a contributor to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, which was founded by Edward to promote his ideas.
Dante became highly inspired by Edward’s artworks and compared him to the best in the field. Encouraged by Rossetti, both William and Edward dropped their plans to study further and decided to start a career in arts.
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Edward made his first oil-sketch in 1856-1857 for ‘Bradfield College.’ In his early works, the impact of Dante was very obvious. That mixed with his fascination with the medieval romance, it was something unique. In the next year, he joined hands with his friend William, to decorate the walls of the Oxford Union.
However, they were still amateurs and the paintings that they made peeled off from the walls. He did not earn a good reputation while working as a painter in England. Things took a pleasant turn when he decided to move to Italy in 1859. His work flourished there and he slowly began earning a reputation as an imaginative and highly talented artist.
Some of his most famous paintings of that time are ‘Sidonia von Bork’ and ‘Clara von Bork’. In addition, he also did book illustrations, such as gothic novel ‘Sidonia the Sorceress’ by Lady Wilde.
In the early 1860s, he took a huge step when he led the foundation of the decorative arts company ‘Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company,’ in collaboration with a few more artists. At the company, they did carvings, stained glass windows, paper hangings and metal-work. The company ran successfully and Edward also continued working independently.
Working for churches was one of the key aspects of their business, due to their religious interests. In the early 1860s, they got the job of decorating St. James’ Palace, which Edward did with stained glass windows. This particular work of him turned out to be his big career breakthrough. It was showcased at an International Exhibition which took place in 1862 and Edward’s reputation crossed national borders.
In the next few years, Edward became more popular, as he got big projects. Feeling confident about his work now, Edward developed his own unique style. The first painting in which he applied this style was ‘The Merciful Knight,’ which was exhibited in 1864.
In 1864, he was elected an associate of the 'Society of Painters in Water-Colours.' In 1866, he was commissioned by Mrs Cassavetti to paint her daughter, Maria Zambaco, which led to an affair between the two. In 1870, his painting, Phyllis and Demophoön, caused a major controversy as Maria Zambaco's features were clearly visible in the barely draped Phyllis. As a result of this controversy, he resigned his membership of the society.
From 1870 to 1877, he exhibited only two paintings and both were done in water-colours. One of the paintings, 'Love Among the Ruins,' was later destroyed by a cleaner who thought it to be an oil painting. The painting was, however, later produced in oil paint by Burne-Jones.
In 1877, he exhibited his work at the 'Grosvenor Gallery,' where paintings such as ‘Mirror of Venus’, ‘Days of Creation,’ and ‘The Beguiling of Merlin’ were displayed. This was one of the biggest breakthroughs of his professional career as it turned him into an overnight success.
In 1879, he diverted from his usual style and came out with the painting called ‘Annunciation.' The painting exhibited a subdued mood which did not resonate well with the critics.
In 1885s, he was elected an 'Associate of the Royal Academy.' At the academy, he showcased ‘The Depths of the Sea’ and ‘The Brazen Tower.'
He had played a great role in the reprisal of the stained glass art in Britain, for which he is widely regarded in the art circles. He also became a leader of the new 'Aesthetic Movement.' It involved the usage of elements such as beauty and the nature. With that, he went strongly against the traditional classicism.
His work mostly exhibited how the things could be perceived at their most beautiful, as opposed to how they are depicted in the real life. Many of his artworks adorn the walls of many great museums throughout the world.
Personal Life & Death
Edward Burne-Jones got engaged to Georgiana MacDonald in 1856, and the couple got married in 1860. She was also an artist. The couple had a son, Philip, and a daughter, Margaret. Philip went on to become a portrait painter.
Edward also had several extra-marital affairs, mostly with his models.
Edward passed away on June 17, 1898. He was 64 at the time of his death.