Shelley’s Art Musings – Claude Monet

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Water Lilies (1918) Musee Orangerie

The 11th November is Armistice Day, and this year marks 100 years of this monumental date, but did you know that Monet presented “Water Lilies” to the state as a monument of peace. This was done by writing to the Prime Minister and his friend George Clemenceau. The pair had been friends for over 30 years, and in Monet’s letter he wrote:

“I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory day, and am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.”

On November 14th this year, the Musee Orangerie will be holding an exhibition which will honour this act, where you can see this exquisite piece line the walls.  The exhibition will run into March 2019, if you want to find out more about the exhibition and how to get tickets you can find the out here.

“Water Lilies” was a piece which was a groundbreaking masterpiece, as the piece covers 100 linear meters in on the walls of the museum, encompassing its audience in a view of placid waters, water lilies and reflections of clouds, broken up by willow branches.  The inspiration for the piece was from the gardens of Monet’s home in Giverny.

Monet and his large family rented a house with 2 acres of land, and 7 years later, his success as a painter afforded him to purchase the house, gardens and surrounding buildings. He created studios and workspaces as well as greenhouses and gave his gardener daily written instructions on the specification of what he wanted to be planted in the garden and the architecture of it.

3 years after the purchase of the house, Monet purchased additional land and undertook a project in landscaping the area with ponds and planted water lilies which would form the basis of this inspiring work.

Monet (right) in his garden- New York Times 1922

Up to this point, Monet had a varied life and had already lost one wife, Camille, of whom Monet had completed studies of on her deathbed. He later married Alice.

By this time Monet had shunned his learning’s in traditional painting styles and shared new styles and techniques which concentrated on the effects of light on the surroundings and used rapid, short brush strokes and broken colours to present a different style which is now known as Impressionism.

Impressionism was not to identify the subject in minute detail, but to demonstrate the light and movement over time, and Monet perfected this technique. His paintings are visually stunning and packed full of the feeling of the fluidity of nature.

There are versions of Water Lilies, which can be seen in museums around the world, but the Musee Orangerie had special rooms created to house the gift to the state.

The piece is comprised of almost 300 paintings, over 40 of which were large format. Two types of composition were defined by the artist at the beginning of the cycle. The first includes the edge of the pond and its dense vegetation; the second, in contrast, plays on the emptiness and includes only the surface of the water with flowers and reflections interspersed.  As this was created towards the end of Monet’s life he was suffering from cataracts, and it wasn’t hung until a few weeks after his death.

In 1952 André Masson published an article comparing the rooms of the Orangerie to “the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”, and it is easy to forget that at time of creation, Monet’s style and technique were ahead of his time.

I urge you if you are in the vicinity of the Musee Orangerie to take the time out and go and view this extraordinary piece.  Examine the composition and take in calm atmosphere that this painting creates.  Reveal in the beauty of the impression of Monet’s gardens and rejoice in the peacefulness of nature, knowing that it is all a cycle.

Figures in the Sun” by Claude Monet, 1888. Oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder

2019 sees the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525/30 – 1569). To mark the occasion the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is dedicating the world’s first ever major monograph exhibition to the artist widely regarded as the 16th century’s greatest Netherlandish painter.

Netherlandish Proverbs Oil on oak panel, 117 x 163 cm; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

After an initial period of brilliance, during which time it rose to achieve perfection, Flemish art gradually fell into decline. Although thorough studies of its origins have revealed works, in particular those of the miniaturists, that are deserving of notice and which predate the artistic careers of the two Van Eycks, Hubert and Jan, the genius of the brothers remains stunningly spectacular, surpassing that of their predecessors to such a degree that it would be impossible to find an equally sudden, decisive and glorious evolution in the history of art.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Painter and the Collector, ca. 1565.
Pen and brown ink, 25 x 21.6 cm.
Graphische Sammlung, Albertina, Vienna.
Petrus Paulus Rubens, Jan Brueghel the Elder and his family, 1612-1613.
Oil on wood, 124.5 x 94.6 cm.
Courtauld Institute of Art, Princes Gate Collection, London.

Even so, the lesser artists who followed the Van Eycks, whether they were either directly trained by them or simply influenced by their work, also possessed talent of admirable quality, but their sense and understanding of nature was less penetrating and profound and their execution less scrupulous. In not applying the same closeness of attention, which till then had been a rule of Flemish painting, these artists lost their opportunity for originality, relaxing their focus on nature and placing the primary importance of their work in its details.

Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hans Rottenhammer,
Rest upon the Flight into Egypt with the Temple of Tivoli, 1595.
Oil on copper, 26 x 35.5 cm. Private collection.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Flight into Egypt, 1563.
Oil on wood, 37.2 x 55.5 cm.
Courtauld Institute of Art, Count Antoine Seilern Collection, London.

It became increasingly common for these painters to travel to Italy, and consequently their native impressions became mixed with those evoked by the lands through which they passed. Upon leaving the Flemish plains, the monotony of which is scarcely interrupted, the emigrant artists could not help but be struck by the imposing nature of the mountainous regions along their route.

Joachim Patinir, Saint Jerome in a Landscape, ca. 1530.
Oil on wood, 74 x 91 cm.
Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Alps, the Tirols, and the Apennines offered the artists the rugged landscapes once sought by the Flemish Primitives, to whom simplicity had been of no interest. In their depiction of panoramas that stretched as far as the eye could see, these nomads remained faithful to their excessive preoccupation with the picturesque.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Rabbit Hunt, 1560 (?). Etching, 22.3 x 29.1 cm.
The Royal Library of Albert I, Brussels.

They were of the belief that no amount of detail could be too much, and they tirelessly added bizarre rock formations and countless rivers to the harsh peaks and mountainous landscapes they painted. In addition, they laid out forests, towns, villages and castles that stretched into infinity. When, during their travels, they spent time in towns, at every step the Flemish painters encountered ancient ruins, monuments of various styles, statues, masterpieces by artists of the Classical age, and works of art no less admired by their less worthy successors; and everywhere they went they came across traditions and new ways of thinking vastly different from those they had known until then. How could they resist the seductions that solicited them from every direction? Their Italian colleagues, who were already organized in associations and guilds, welcomed the Flemish artists, affiliated them with their groups and initiated them into the wonders of the ars nova. On their return home, the travellers themselves often became apostles, extolling the principles of Italian painting and art in general, and attempting, though usually with little success, to imitate the Italian style…

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Portrait Paintings and Studio Drawings

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The first quality of great portraiture is the power to reveal the inner character, or story, of the sitter. It is said that every man habitually wears a mask in the presence of his peers, and it is only in moments of unconsciousness that he lets it down.

Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), Self-Portrait, Italian, c. 1588.
Oil on canvas, 63 x 52 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The great portrait painter must be able to capture the true essence of the individual, an incredibly complex task that is often only revealed in fleeting moments. Such an artist, as the poet Tennyson describes, “pouring on a face, divinely through all hindrance finds the man behind it, and so paints him so that his face, the shape and colour of a mind and life, lives for his children, ever at his best.”

Alexander Roslin (1718-1793), The Lady with the Veil: Marie Suzanne Roslin (wife of the artist), Rococo, Swedish, 1768.
Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The goal was not only to portray the subject’s physical characteristics but the entire essence of the individual, Aristotle stated that “the goal of art is not to present the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.” Interpretative portrait painting was often modelled after Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. The mysterious nature of the Mona Lisa’s facial expression gives depth to her character- the spectator is instantly intrigued and desires to know what she may be hiding. Therefore to attain this level of portraiture, the artist must become cognizant and sympathetic to the spirit of the subject.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), Italian, c. 1503-1506.
Oil on poplar panel, 77 x 53 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

In addition from a compositional standpoint the Mona Lisa symbolizes perfection, its precise proportions and use of atmospheric perspective also are responsible for its acclaim in the art world. Many portrait painters since, however far from attaining his ideal, have idealised da Vinci and utilised his work as inspiration. James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s power was remarkable in his own circle, while Franz Hals and Diego Velasquez were more universally recognised. Often the personality of the sitter is revealed by a direct gaze that seems to encompass something fascinating about the subject. Whether delightful or solemn, the eyes of the sitter seem to draw the spectator in with a sense of “intimacy” that is difficult to break down and define. This quality is especially evident in the jovial nature of Hals’ portraits, the friendly smiles apparent within Joshua Reynolds’ paintings, the wistful stare captured in Rembrandt’s portraits, and the melancholy appeal within the paintings of Domenico Morone.

Leonardo-da-Vinci-Lady-with-an-Ermine
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian, Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of
Cecilia Gallerani), 1483-1490. Oil on panel, 54 x 39 cm.
Czartoryski Museum, Kraków.

At other times the sitter’s glance is averted, and he is quite unaware of observation. The artist has illustrated the sitter in the intimacy of his own self-communion; a trait that is often found in Titian’s subjects. Therefore the artist’s ability to depict the inner nature of the sitter became an incredibly subjective art. Initially when portraiture was only reserved for a specific social class, the aristocracy, the church and the upper middle class or bourgeoisie, it was necessary for the portrait to be a flattering representation of the subject. Eventually artists could freely express themselves in their own introspective manner when painting a portrait.

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Shelley’s Art Musings – Delacroix Sexist?

 

Eugene Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People (1830) Musée du Louvre

It’s an iconic and powerfully strong image, isn’t it. Lady Liberty leading the charge of freedom, in what is known as Delacroix’s most famous painting, but the symbolism and composition of the piece have opened debates around sexism and imagery.
Delacroix was notorious for his dramatic paintings, but audiences found his topics and depictions rather hard to stomach, as the scenes are overly violent, too grand, oversized and overpowering in the response that they almost demand.
Delacroix was a leading name in French Romanticism, born in 1798 he was educated at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen, where he immersed himself in the classics and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he started his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. When his fellow artist Théodore Géricault painted “The Raft of the Medusa” in 1818, this inspired Delacroix’s first major painting – “The Barque of Dante”.

Théodore-Géricault-The-Raft-of-Medusa
Théodore Géricault – The Raft of Medusa (1819) Musée du Louvre

From this point, Delacroix continued to create works which divided the audiences, and it isn’t by chance that “The Raft of Medusa” was the painting to initially inspire him, as later, when creating “Liberty leading the People” he echoed the triangular structure of Géricault’s piece to add depth and balance to his greatest painting.
Liberty broke a trend in Delacroix’s style, with a woman leading the people to hope and freedom over a pile of dead bodies. It was no secret that Delacroix saw women as an aesthetic to life and many of his paintings have women in them as draped and accepting of their fate, so it is unusual to see a woman so dominantly prominent in his work. This was a far cry from the status of women in the 1830s, and there are some interesting factors within the painting which stand her apart from the women of any class during the French revolution. Is this just another painting which demonstrates Delacroix’s feelings on women, or is the symbolism much deeper than his apparent sexism?
Obviously, the woman leading the people is no ordinary women, she is, in fact, Libertas and is the embodiment of Liberty. She is shown baring her breasts and holding high the tricolour flag, while in her other hand a rifle fixed with a bayonet. She strides over the dead bodies of men as a small boy, armed with pistols, hurries along beside her, as the revolutionary men come to join her march.
You may think that this painting was a heavily political piece, a depiction of the revolution from the view of those who were opposed to the government, but this is a painting of a moment in time in the revolution where anything was possible, created by a man that was trying to make sense of what was going on around him; its a moment of anarchic freedom, it is the most enduring image of what revolution feels like from within: ecstatic, violent, libidinal and murderous.
This painting is in the style of romanticism, which doesn’t concentrate on the realism of a situation, more externalises the feeling of the artist on to the canvas.
Liberty shows her breasts, not in a sexual display, but in a display of dominance and power. This painting pre-dates Impressionists, who recorded what they saw, rather than depicting symbols in a romantic way. Would it have been possible to paint a French mortal woman in this stance? At the time probably not. Only a symbolic woman could have such a role in a piece of historical propaganda rather than a real woman. She is a robust woman, indicating the strength of her convictions. She is shown in profile, almost obvious to the maddening crowd which surrounds her. She barely notices the path of dead bodies which she strides over. She is ready to fight at close range and defend the honour of her convictions.
The young boy is the symbol of how early this moment in time is within the revolution. He stands for the childlike naivety which the masses created barricades to bring down Charles X. It’s always a disturbing image, an armed child, who doesn’t have the full moral or social sense to truly comprehend what is happening to act on judgement; yet it also echoes the hope which is shown with Liberty at the front.
There are dreamlike qualities to the painting. The revolutionary who looks up at Liberty from the ground has a blue shirt and a red headscarf he has a bit of white shirt poking out under his blue top – that is, he is decked in red, white and blue, echoing the tricolour that flies over the barricades. This man is clothed in a decayed, dying version of Liberty’s flag: he is her sick shadow, an indication and premonition of the outcome of revolution. It doesn’t matter who wins in the end, people still suffer and die.
Is Delacroix sexist in his subject matter? Well, of course, he is! In 1830, it would almost be impossible not to be sexist or patriarchal as the dominant society, even in revolutionary France, was sexist at this time, as was the rest of the Western World. However, is the painting sexual and misogynistic? No, I don’t think it is. Its subject matter is not about sex or sexuality but about the power of the revolution. Oh, so often we hear of the women being the temptress who leads men astray, so why wouldn’t the Goddess Libertas be leading men into a dangerous and fraught situation under the guise of the seduction of freedom.
Delacroix has painted the hysterical freedom and joy of revolution. His painting acting as a reminder of revolution’s most charismatic visual icon, and yet it is not naive. Death is part of the glamour, and there is sickness at the very centre of progress. Romanticism is not an optimistic art. If Delacroix’s painting understands the seduction of revolution better than any other, it also acknowledges the violence that is inseparable from that belief in total change and the rule of the crowd.

Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones, einer der letzten Präraffaeliten, hat imaginäre Welten in beeindruckenden Gemälden, Glasfenstern und Wandteppichen ins Leben gerufen.

Edward-Burne-Jones-exhibition

Als Edward Burne-Jones’ Ölgemälde König Cophetua und das Bettlermädchen unter dem gerade fertig gestellten Eiffelturm auf der Pariser Weltausstellung 1889 gezeigt wurde, war dies eine ebenso große Sensation wie der Turm selbst. Für sein Werk bekam Burne-Jones nicht nur auf der Ausstellung eine Goldmedaille, er wurde auch mit dem Kreuz der Ehrenlegion ausgezeichnet.

Burne-Jones_Cophetua_Beggar_Maid_
König Cophetua und das Bettlermädchen, 1880-1884.
Öl auf Leinwand, 290 x 136 cm.Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London.

Er war einer der wenigen „Angelsachsen“ – vom Maler John Constable (1776 bis 1837) am Anfang des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts bis Jerry Lewis (* 1926) am Ende des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts –, denen es gelang, die Herzen der französischen Intellektuellen zu erobern. Sogar die Modewelt wurde von einer Burne-Jones-Begeisterung erfasst, und für eine Weile kleideten und gaben sich die modebewussten französischen Damen einem Stil „à la Burne-Jones“ hin, der sich durch blassen Teint, dunkle Augenringe und einen Hauch matter Erschöpfung auszeichnete.

Edward-Burne-Jones-The-Council-Chamber
The Briar Rose series: The Council Chamber (Der Zyklus der Wilden Rose:
Der Sitzungssaal), 1870-1890. Öl auf Leinwand, 121,9 x 248,9 cm.
Faringdon Collection Trust, Buscot Park.

Die beiden großen französischen Symbolisten Gustave Moreau (1826 bis 1898) und Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 bis 1898) erkannten sehr schnell in Burne-Jones einen künstlerisch Gleichgesinnten. Und der Meister der „Décadence“, der „Sar“ Josephin Peladan (1859 bis 1918), kündigte im Jahre 1892 an, dass Burne-Jones in seinem gerade eröffneten Salon de la Rose-Croix ausstellen würde – neben Puvis de Chavannes und anderen führenden Vertretern des französischen Symbolismus und englischen Präraffaeliten. Burne-Jones schrieb daraufhin an seinen, den englischen Präraffaeliten und Symbolisten zuzurechnenden Künstlerkollegen George Frederick Watts (1817 bis 1904): „Dieser ‘Salon des Rose-Cross’ – ich weiß nicht so recht, was ich davon halten soll – hat mir da so ein Pamphlet geschickt, einen Brief, in dem man anfragt, ob ich dort ausstellen würde. Ich bin jedoch ein wenig misstrauisch.“ Wie Puvis – der gegenüber dem Figaro sogar jegliche Verbindung zu jenem Salon abstritt – lehnte auch Burne-Jones die Einladung dankend ab.

burne-jones-cupid-hunting-field
Cupid’s Hunting Fields (Amors Jagdgebiet), 1885.
Gouache, 97,2 x 75,2 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Es ist relativ unwahrscheinlich, dass Burne-Jones seine Zugehörigkeit zum Symbolismus akzeptiert oder diesen als solchen überhaupt verstanden hätte. In unseren Augen jedoch erscheint er als einer der repräsentativsten Vertreter des Symbolismus und der weit verbreiteten Fin de Siècle-Bewegung. Der Symbolismus entstand im späten 19.

edward-burne-jones-Hoffnung
Hoffnung, 1896. Öl auf Leinwand, 179 x 63,5 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Jahrhundert als Reaktion auf die seit etwa Mitte dieses Jahrhunderts dominierende positivistische Philosophie. Sie drückte sich vor allem in den Gemälden von Gustave Courbet (1819 bis 1877) und Edouard Manet (1832 bis 1883) sowie in den realistischen Romanen Emile Zolas (1840 bis 1902) aus, aber auch im Impressionismus, der vor allem die Sinne seiner Betrachter anzusprechen versuchte.

burne-jones-Selbst-Karikatur als Straßenkünstler
Selbst-Karikatur als Straßenkünstler. Tuschezeichnung, 11,4 x 6,3 cm.
Gezeichnet mit „Starving“. Courtesy of Sotheby’s, London.

Die Bewegung war außerdem als Reaktion gegen Fortschritt und Moderne zu verstehen, wie sie sich mit dem Eiffelturm ausdrückten, und gegen den Siegeszug von Kommerz und Industrie, die auf eben dieser Ausstellung in der gewaltigen Halle der Maschinen gefeiert wurden und die bei Puvis de Chavannes Horror und Alpträume ausgelöst hatten.

burne-jones-merciful-knight
The Merciful Knight (Der barmherzige Ritter), 1863.
Aquarell und Gouache, 100,3 x 69,2 cm.

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Edward Burne-Jones

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Lorsque Le Roi Cophetua et la jeune mendiante de Burne-Jones, toile de la taille d’une peinture murale, fut exposée lors de l’Exposition universelle de 1889 à l’ombre de la Tour Eiffel récemment construite, elle fit à peine moins sensation que la tour elle-même. Lors de l’exposition, Burne-Jones reçut non seulement une médaille d’or mais aussi la Légion d’honneur.

Burne-Jones_Cophetua_Beggar_Maid_-_GAP_cropped_hard
Le Roi Cophetua et la jeune mendiante,1880-1884.
Huile sur toile, 290 x 136 cm. Tate Britain, Londres.

Il devint l’un de ces rares « anglo-saxons » qui, de Constable au début du XIXe siècle jusqu’à Jerry Lewis à la fin du XXe siècle, avaient été intégrés au coeur de l’intelligentsia française. Pendant les quelques années que dura l’engouement pour Burne-Jones, des femmes françaises à la mode se vêtirent et se comportèrent « à la Burne-Jones » et cultivèrent le teint pâle, les yeux cernés et les airs d’épuisement maladif.

Saint Georges et le dragon
Saint Georges et le dragon : La Pétition au roi, 1865-1866.
Huile sur toile, 106,7 x 183 cm.
Hanover College, Hanover (Indiana).

Les deux grands peintres symbolistes français, Gustave Moreau et Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, reconnurent immédiatement Burne-Jones comme l’un de leurs compagnons de route artistique. En 1892, tête de file de la « Décadence », « Sâr » Joséphin Peladan, annonça que Burne-Jones allait exposer dans son « Salon de la Rose-Croix », récemment instauré et dédié aux symbolistes, aux côtés de Puvis de Chavannes et d’autres symbolistes français significatifs ainsi que de certains préraphaélites anglais.

Saint Georges et le
Saint Georges et le dragon : La Princesse Sabra tirant au sort, 1865-1866.
Huile sur toile, 106,7 x 183 cm. Hanover College, Hanover (Indiana).

Burne-Jones écrivit à son confrère George Frederick Watts : « Je ne sais rien au sujet de ce Salon Rose-Croix, j’ai reçu une sorte de pamphlet ampoulé assez amusant, une lettre me demandant d’y exposer, mais j’ai des réserves à cet égard. » A l’instar de Puvis, qui alla jusqu’à écrire au Figaro pour nier toute relation avec ce nouveau Salon, Burne-Jones refusa l’invitation. Il aurait été très invraisemblable que Burne-Jones ait accepté ou peut-être même compris l’étiquette de « symboliste ».

Le Chevalier
Le Chevalier miséricordieux, 1863. Aquarelle et gouache, 100,3 x 69,2 cm.
Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Pourtant, à nos yeux, il semble avoir été l’un des membres les plus représentatifs du mouvement symboliste et de cet esprit « fin de siècle » si largement répandu. Le symbolisme était une réaction de la fin du XIXe siècle à la philosophie positiviste, qui avait dominé le milieu du siècle, et avait trouvé à s’exprimer dans la matérialité crasse des peintures de Courbet et de Manet et le réalisme des romans d’Émile Zola ou encore dans l’emphase mise sur la perception sensorielle par l’impressionnisme.

La Lamentation, 1866.
La Lamentation, 1866.
Aquarelle et gouache sur papier marouflé sur toile, 47,5 x 79,5 cm.
William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow.

Par-dessus tout, il s’agissait d’une réaction contre la croyance dans le progrès et la modernité incarnés par la Tour Eiffel elle-même, et contre le triomphe de l’industrie et du commerce célébrés dans la vaste « Salle des Machines » de la même exposition qui avait horrifié Puvis de Chavannes et lui avait donné des cauchemars.

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Edward Burne-Jones


One of the last Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne-Jones brought imaginary worlds to life in awe-inspiring paintings, stained glass windows and tapestries

When Burne-Jones’ mural sized canvas of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid  was exhibited in the shadow of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition universelle in 1889, it caused a sensation scarcely less extraordinary than the tower itself. Burne-Jones was awarded not only a gold medal at the exhibition but also the cross of the Légion d’honneur.

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, 1880-1884. Oil on canvas, 290 x 136 cm. Tate Britain, London.

He became one of those rare “Anglo-Saxons” who, from Constable in the early nineteenth century to Jerry Lewis in the late twentieth century, have been taken into the hearts of the French intelligentsia. For a few years while the Burne-Jones craze lasted, fashionable French women dressed and comported themselves “à la Burne-Jones”, cultivating pale complexions, bruised eyes and an air of unhealthy exhaustion.

The Annunciation (“ The Flower of God”), 1863. Watercolour and gouache, 61 x 53.3 cm.
Collection. Lord Lloyd-Webber.

The two great French Symbolist painters Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes immediately recognised Burne-Jones as an artistic fellow traveller. In 1892, the cheer leader of the “Decadence” “Sâr” Joséphin Péladan, announced that Burne-Jones would be exhibiting at his newly launched Symbolist Salon de la Rose-Croix alongside Puvis de Chavannes and other leading French Symbolist and English Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones wrote to his fellow artist George Frederick Watts “I don’t know about the Salon of the Rose-Cross — a funny high-fallutin’ sort of pamphlet has reached me — a letter asking me to exhibit there, but I feel suspicious of it.”

Sidonia von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache,
33 x 17 cm. Tate Britain, London.

Like Puvis de Chavannes (who went so far as to write to Le Figaro denying any connection with the new Salon), Burne-Jones turned down the invitation. It is very unlikely that Burne-Jones would have accepted, or perhaps even have understood, the label of “Symbolist”. Yet, to our eyes, he seems to have been one of the most representative figures of the Symbolist movement and of that pervasive mood termed “fin de siècle”.

Going to the Battle, 1858. Grey pen and ink drawing on vellum paper, 22.5 x 19.5 cm.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Symbolism was a late-nineteenth-century reaction to the positivist philosophy that had dominated the mid-century. It found expression in the gross materiality of the paintings of Courbet and Manet and the realist novels of Emile Zola and in Impressionism with its emphasis on sensory perception. Above all, it was a reaction against the belief in progress and modernity represented by the Eiffel Tower itself and against the triumph of industry and commerce celebrated in the vast “Hall of Machines” in the same exhibition, which had filled Puvis de Chavannes with horror and had given him nightmares.

Clara von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache, 34 x 18 cm.
Tate Britain, London.

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