Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). A Master of the Imaginary
Devoting himself more and more to painting, Burne-Jones took part, in 1877, in the first exhibition held at the Grosvenor Gallery, where he presented works such as The Beguiling of Merlin (Liverpool, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside). This marked his definitive consecration on the British art scene.
In the 1880s some of his finest masterpieces appeared, evoking a chivalrous medieval past (King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, London, Tate Gallery) or Michelangelo (The Wheel of Fortune, Musée d'Orsay) or again, visual poems in the Whistler vein (The Golden Stairs, London, Tate Gallery).
In addition, Burne-Jones's passion for mythological and legendary tales, combined with his ambition to venture into decorative art, often led him to work in cycles.
Here, in this exhibition, the entire Perseus Series, (Southampton City Art Gallery) and that of The Sleeping Beauty (Ponce Museum, Porto Rico ; Wilmington, Delaware Art Museum) are on display ; they count among the most remarkable of the painter's creations.
Burne-Jones's interest in the decorative arts never failed. After having supplied, from 1860 onwards, numerous firms with cartoons for stained glasses, in 1874 he became one of the principal designers for the William Morris Company, some of which are shown here. This partnership also generated some highly successful tapestries with the spectacular Holy Grail series (Birmingham Art Gallery) presented in its entirety at this exhibition, and also illustrations for the works of Chaucer printed by the Kelmscott Press. Other exceptional items can also be seen - jewellery, decorated tiles... - which highlight the multiplicity and inventiveness of his work as designer and decorator. The exhibition demonstrates the importance of Burne-Jones's graphic work with a collection of preparatory drawings for paintings, designs for objets d'art and book illustrations.
This exhibition in Paris provides therefore an opportunity to discover the most significant and renowned English artist of the late nineteenth century. Some of his work had already been shown in France, notably at the Expositions Universelles in Paris in 1878 and 1889, where it was acclaimed with enthousiasm by Puvis de Chavannes and Gustave Moreau. There is no doubt that the profoundly poetical world of Burne-Jones, dedicated entirely to the imaginary, still retains the same powerful fascination it held in the nineteenth century.