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Dic mihi quid feci nisi non sapienter amavi. An idea of the immense amount of work that goes into a picture of Mr. Burne-Jones's may be gained from a sketch of one which takes its groundwork from the legend of Troy. The centre piece, which covers a huge canvas, has had room found for it in Mr. G. F. Watts’s studio. Such a centre piece in such a picture represents the crowning glory of its main idea, as, if the legend poetised in colour be of a saint, would be rendered by the saint's apotheosis or rapture. Here the central notion is of that fated apple of the myth, and the choice to which of the three it shall be given,—to Wisdom, Power, or Beauty. By one side of the largest picture is a painting of the Rape of Helen, and on the other side is Troy on fire. The predella, or department of the complete picture which gives minor details of the story, or flashes of symbolic suggestiveness like a proverbial saying from the chorus of a Greek play, consists of three broad pictures alternating with four narrow slips, arow beneath the three largest designs. The broadest picture of this part is painted but not yet finished. It represents the feast of Peleus, into which uninvited Discord is just entering, a gray figure upon whom the eyes of all the deities at the banquet are directed. The other pictures are of “ Venus Concordia,” the peace of Venus, and “ Venus Discordia”; and the slips are of Fortune, Fame, Oblivion, and of Love that makes all things new again. The Fortune panel shows a figure of that genius turning a huge wheel, upon which stand men, the foot of one being on the level of the head of another-a most striking conception altogether.
In 1872 were begun four large pictures conveying the always delightful story of the Sleeping Beauty. The maidens sleeping by their loom, with wild roses running riot in tangles in the background, take one into the very atmosphere of summer's sweetest drowsiness.
“Love among the Ruins” was exhibited in 1873, the first picture sent to exhibition for a long period. The title, but not the subject, of the picture is taken from a poem of Browning's.
Ten important pictures are in different stages of progress, the Perseus series, in which the subject is so treated as to absorb something of that modern enlightenment which has shown that the ancient myths were not mere idle tales, but embodied poetic, if not philosophic, truths. The pictures of this cluster are made representations of the sun's victory, when he seeks Medusa, or the moon, and wins Andromeda from darkness. The series begins with dawn and ends with twilight, thus completing the subject in that cyclic manner to which Mr. Burne-Jones's poetic tendency leads him. The pictures all seem to be of men and women, but like parables, have all underneath the surface their latent purpose and point.
The opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 doubtless introduced many persons to Mr. Burne-Jones's pictures, to whom he had appeared
before as but the distorted figure of shadowy rumour. He was represented there by the weirdly poetic “Merlin ” picture, by a composite symbolic picture, “The Days of Creation,” and by the lustrous beauty of “Venus's Looking-Glass.” These have been already described in The University Magazine of that date, as also in their season the pictures of the succeeding year, “Laus Veneris,” “Pan and Psyche," and the “Chant D'Amour."
To the last picture Mr. Swinburne's dedication to Mr. Burne-Jones of his “Poems and Ballads” is supposed to have special reference, sympathising so keenly as it does with that ideal of the painter's, of life where there is no darkness, and the shadow of vermilion is not black, but only a deeper vermilion. The dedicatory verses include these :Is there place in the land of your labour, Where earth has a garment of glories,
Is there room in your world of delight, And a murmur of musical flowers ; Where change has not sorrow for neigh. In woods where the spring half uncovers, bour,
The flush of her amorous face, And day has not night ?
By the waters that listen for lovers,
For these is there place ? In their wings though the sea-wind yet quivers,
Though the world of your hands be more Will you spare not a space for them there gracious, Made green with the running of rivers And lovelier in lordship of things And gracious with temperate air;
Clothed round by sweet art with the In the fields and the turreted cities,
spacious That cover from sunshine and rain,
Warm heaven of her imminent wings, Fair passions and bountiful pities
Let them enter, unfledged and nigh faintAnd loves without stain ?
For the love of old loves and lost times; In a land of clear colours and stories, And receive in your palace of painting In a region of shadowless hours,
This revel of rhymes. In the Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition of the present year are the pictures of the Pygmalion series, and the Annunciation, the latter having been both conceived and executed lately, but the former having been designed and studied so long as fourteen years ago, but painted only last year.
Mr. Burne-Jones married in 1860, and his family consists of one son and one daughter. He lives between Kensington and Hammersmith, in a house of some historic interest, for the most ancient part of it formed the residence of Richardson, the novelist.
Mr. Burne-Jones has travelled in Italy with Ruskin, but mostly stays at home, rarely taking even brief holiday, being fully absorbed by his pursuit, even to the extent of the keenest anxiety about the development of work in progress. It needs either a strong backbone or an unflinching purpose to sit at an easel day by day from nine to half-past five or six; few literary workers could keep the bow bent for so long a period.
We may conclude with a few words on Mr. Burne-Jones's position and style. He is thought to take his figures bodily out of the land of dreams; he really studies more and more closely from nature as the years go on; and the number of elaborate studies which precede the painting of each department of a great picture would astonish those who do not realise of what patient labour genius is prodigal, and how as the Chinese sage says, if the ordinary man should succeed by ten efforts, the superior man will succeed by a hundred. Mr. Burne-Jones's process may be one of selection, of transformation, but an actual face is always held within his most shadowy and ideal conceptions. He likes the support of feel. ing that his work is sane and sound, and that though it sift Nature by a poetic standard, it was Nature that set it going. His aim however is not to repeat nature, but to make the unmade. The pictures of those who with extreme realistic feeling strive to mimic nature he has been known to say are often pleasant to him to look upon, but not what he longs to do. His pictures are not of life as it is, but of life as he would have it to be, of life purged from its dross and made perfect and pure, and beautiful in freedom. A man's picture, if his hand be untouched by affectation, is his heart's longing and his life's ideal.
This mystical painter would be, and is, own brother to the poet, and as such should be appreciated. Poetic ideas in art he would regard as brotherly to, but not identical with, poetical ideas expressed in literature; and many a subject he would put away as belonging more properly to verse; doubtless with the greater pleasure watching his friend William Morris work it out. Within the field occupied by the ray of colour, and defined by the boundary of line, he finds his full expression and the natural home of his ideas ; recognising the while that the English have a stronger bent up to the present for poetic expression in literature than in art.
He may be said to have a bias for a classic mould for his ideas, and to a certain extent, perhaps, the allegation may be true. But the modern world, with its bodies swathed and hidden in the ugly black coat or the latest fashion of the milliner, would afford but a constrained and realistic mode of expression. The Hebrew legend-world, though remote enough for art, and streaked with power and beauty, and though in a sense familiar to the bulk of the community, has its objections on account of the doctrinal prejudices attached to it. The Scandinavian epics he might like to take, but the way of appreciation seems not yet to be enough prepared. But upon whatever periods he may place the scaffolding of his compositions, his perpetual attempt is to unchronologise the time, to make his scenes transact themselves in no fixed era at all, but in the eternal time of beauty. His landscapes are designedly landscapes of fairyland, or of no man's land. Passions proper to all time, permanent qualities of human nature, are the root of his work; whether associated
with Egypt, Assyria, or Greece, matters not to him so long as they come within the scope of what he loves to treat.
Classical or mediæval as he may be in form, he is essentially modern in feeling and spirit. His Pygmalion is full of the true fire, but the care of the painter has been in the representation of the poetic side of him rather than in studied niceties of the archæology of Cyprus. His Venus is not of Greece or Italy, but a vision of the Venus of men's heartsa Celtic Venus, if she have any nationality.
Certain comparatively new-born qualities that belong to our time he seems very fully to have absorbed into his work—the strange wistfulness, the pathetic sentiment that has come with modern cultivation; even the halting hesitancy which compares with the truculent fierceness that endows the heroes of old time with dramatic manhood. In these times all times seem to flow together; so much history with its gathered results is fused into our minds, that a wonder and sympathy is perforce awakened for things gone by, and if a painter absorbs the strange tale of the world into his work, it is no wonder if it be not over cheerful, or over positive, as the work of those who saw around them only the simple vigour and ignorance of their own clan.
In the method of Mr. Burne-Jones's work, the action of a limb, as carrying out the conception of the whole composition, would be a matter of intense interest, while the drawing of subordinate details, provided the result did not look ugly, would not give him anxiety, even if slightly wrong in anatomy, or dubious in perspective. It must not be forgotten that what is called the “ poetic licence” has been allowed in all ages, and to great poets. Accuracy is essentially a scientific quality; in painting it cannot be lost sight of, but if beauty were subordinated to it, there might be a sorry result.
Mr. Burne-Jones, as a painter, may claim all he will of the poet's privileges; his pictures are representations of ideal beauty and abstract romance, containing little or no story but that of the loveliness itself of the forms, or the undercurrent of meaning in the relation of the groups of the figures, and no less of the colours in which they shine. We should imagine that William Morris's dedication of his “Earthly Paradise” would form a very fit definition also of the purpose of much of Mr. Burne-Jones's work. We feel confident that it would help many people in their appreciation of him to regard him rather from the poetical than the technical side. Except to a mind highly educated in the subtle suggestiveness, and even parabolic character, which is enshrined in departments of life where it is often little expected, Mr. Burne-Jones's pictures may present a study offering some little difficulty at first. But this is no objection to a great poet, who, if truly unconventional and with a message of his own, may remain an object of scorn for a generation or more. And why similarly should it be any objection to a painter that the whole produce and speech of his soul cannot be estimated and run dry in an hour ? Mr. Burne-Jones is at present very busy accumulating studies for a picture in progress, which is to be “ The Fountain of Youth.” We watch with great interest the position he is taking in English art, and welcome the memorable additions which he is making to the food, not as yet too plentiful, of our higher faculties.