The Drawings of Edward Burne-Jones: A Pre-Raphaelite Master at Lady Lever Gallery

By Ben Miller | 13 June 2013

Exhibition preview: The Drawings of Edward Burne-Jones: A Pre-Raphaelite Master, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, June 14 2013 – January 12 2014

A light brown study of a goddess-like woman looking sideways
Edward Burne-Jones, Study for Sponsa de Libano (1891)© National Museums Liverpool
Sponsa de Libano, painter Edward Burne-Jones’ spookily angelic watercolour, is a three-metre tall work of some fragility. And it’s coming out of storage for the first time in two decades of Lady Lever’s thematic exploration of the Renaissance-influenced artist, appearing as one of 30 drawings and watercolours beginning with independent drawings and moving on to preparatory studies and drawings premeditating larger pieces and tapestries.

Born in Birmingham in 1833, Burne-Jones was destined for the church, but a meeting with William Morris – the pair were students at Oxford in 1852 – started a lifelong friendship and partnership.

An Italian, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, persuaded the artist to leave Oxford in 1855, training himself to become one of Victorian’s most popular painters and a leader of the 19th century Aesthetic movement.

His co-founding of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co, in 1861, led to some of the stained glass window designs shining in the final section of this show. But they’re also visible in the buildings beyond the gallery: several churches around Merseyside bear the windows of a man sufficiently moved by the work of Michelangelo to lie in on the floor in the middle of the bustling Sistine Chapel, the better to gain a panoramic view of the building.

Closer to home, two watercolours, St Gabriel and St Raphael, were designs for the windows of St Margaret’s Church, in Sussex, which Burne-Jones donated to the church when his daughter married there.

One of his other passions was literary myth, legend and folklore. A rare loose-leaf edition of The Flower Book – one of 300 copies made – features 38 watercolours inspired by folkloric flower names, completed during a 16-year period.

The drawings, meanwhile, are concerned with Knights, mermaids, goddesses and beautiful women, fixing wide, expressive eyes back from the canvasses.

  • Open 10am-5pm (closes 2pm on December 24, closed December 24-25 and January 1). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @LeverArtGallery.
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