Introduction and Guide
The Burne-Jones Catalogue Raisonné Foundation.
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This is an ongoing project. It launched with about 25% of the total works that the artist, his studio and collaborators produced. It is being worked on continuously and will take many years to complete.
The catalogue raisonné has used the convention that Burne-Jones adopted for the authorship of the paintings, with additions.
Burne-Jones considered that all works issued by the studio were by him and this is what he advised his son, Philip, to adopt when he sold the contents of the studio. However, where the academic panel feels that the work is mainly by the studio and has little or none of the hand of the master, the raisonné lists the works as “By Burne-Jones and Studio” or “Studio of Burne-Jones” and where possible have added the studio assistant(s) involved.
It should be noted that from 1866/7 Burne-Jones employed two permanent studio assistants, Charles Fairfax Murray and Thomas Matthews Rooke. In addition, there may have been up to six or seven studio assistants at any one time. These assistants were not idle, so one must assume that the majority of Burne-Jones’s final works have some percentage of studio painting in them.
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Sir Edward Burne-Jones was a prolific artist; without doubt one of the greatest that Britain produced in the second half of the nineteenth century, alongside Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Albert Moore. His output was by far greater than any of his colleagues and today is spread, throughout museum collections, religious buildings and highly prized private collections, across the whole World. A catalogue raisonné is long overdue and owing to his use of the studio and assistants, clarification is urgently required.
This catalogue is not the place for biographical facts, but it should be noted that from a lowly background, the artist rose to be highly regarded amongst his peers and mixed in the highest echelons of British society. He was invited to exhibit in the most prestigious exhibitions throughout Europe and his work was amongst the most expensive of the period; collectors and patrons vied to obtain his latest work. His importance was recognised in his lifetime by his contemporaries and he influenced, amongst many others, the Belgian painter Fernand Knopff (1858-1921) and the playwright Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949); and continues to inspire today.
His son Philip, also an artist, commented that his:
“industry was indefatigable” and that he “never saw him idle” and that he “was down punctually by eight o'clock every morning, … went upstairs to the studio and was ready to start work by nine o'clock, and in his studio he remained, with the exception of half an hour for lunch, for the rest of the day.” In addition, he for “a great number of years ... used to work after dinner in the evenings as well” and “could not endure the notion of spending a day without work.”
Consequently, he left a huge body of work. But it was not simply a product of working alone. Contributing to the vast amount of work was the studio he created, based upon Renaissance precedents, employing assistants. Thomas Matthews Rooke’s description of the Story of Troy in the 1930 City of Birmingham Art Gallery catalogue, page 31, contains the following: ‘An early cherished idea of his was to get much done by means of a "school" of artists and assistants he should train’.
The process he evolved was again described by Philip:
“It was my father's invariable custom, after he had roughly sketched out the plan of a picture, and at the same time that he was making studies from the model for various details – hands, feet, drapery etc – to draw out upon brown paper, the same size as the intended canvas, an elaborate scheme in colour for the picture he was about to paint. This preliminary design or cartoon was usually drawn in pastel or watercolour, often in a mixture of the two.” … “When the cartoon was completed, it would be traced by an assistant and transferred to the canvas.” … “The design was then drawn in, usually by an assistant in thin monochrome (burnt sienna, raw or burnt umber or terre verte) and the real work of painting the picture would begin.”
Philip has simplified the procedure for, in practice, the process was more complicated. As Burne-Jones's confidence in the system he had created grew, he allowed his assistants greater involvement. They needed guidance before they could be trusted to tackle the major tasks and made trial sketches prior to embarking on the final painting. Many such exist with later touches by Burne-Jones. So great became the skill of these assistants that the work they produced contains an essence of the Master. These could be sold as separate works legitimately as they had been adapted or overpainted by Burne-Jones himself.
Employing assistants was a result of Burne-Jones's experience with Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company (the Firm). The production of stained glass windows and mural painting required workmen to convert the artist's cartoons into the finished article. Witnessing this system, it would have occurred to Burne-Jones that he would be able to increase his output (and his income) by employing an assistant similarly. In November 1866, Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919) was engaged by Burne-Jones to make copies and size up cartoons. Thus began the studio and Murray established himself as a go-between, uniting the studio and the Firm. In 1866 he painted, from Burne-Jones's original drawings, the panels of the Signs of the Zodiac in the Green Dining Room of the South Kensington Museum (V&A). Later Murray also became invaluable to William Morris as a copyist and was also occasionally employed as a glass painter.
By 1869 the concept of creating an active workshop similar to those of Renaissance painters had become a central idea. Thomas Matthews Rooke (1842-1942) was engaged initially as a cartoonist. He was to stay on until Burne-Jones's death as a full assistant and close friend. He was joined in the early 1870s by John Melhuish Strudwick (1849-1935) and the American artist, Francis Lathrop (1849-1909). This was a period when the studio became more productive, especially as the number of drawings increased and paintings became larger and filled with numerous figures. From this time, the artist was working in diverse media. In addition to the prolific stained glass cartoon production aided by Murray and Rooke, Osmund Weeks, a worker in gesso, was introduced to Burne-Jones by Walter Crane. He was engaged to be employed on the Perseus series and his employment was followed, in 1877, by Matthew Webb (1851-1924), also for his gesso skills. Webb, however, stayed in a more general capacity. It is generally believed that assistants came and went during the 1880s and 1890s but as yet only one has been identified: Garstan Harvey (1875-1953), a young artist who appears to have worked on The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon. In January 1893, Robert Catterson-Smith (1853-1938) began assisting in the production of the illustrations for the Kelmscott Press. Catterson-Smith being a practising metal-worker as well as an artist, gave Burne-Jones the opportunity to design silver panels, which he adapted from existing drawings.
An eclectic artist in his influences, Burne-Jones's output was continually evolving and can be classified into five characteristic periods:
- 1843-1856. Juvenilia: from childhood to the Fairy Family book illustrations, he was influenced by George Cruikshank and other Victorian book illustrators.
- 1856–1864. The period of Rossetti's influence and that of the Venetian painters. In addition, Medievalism from the illuminated manuscripts he and Morris studied in The Bodleian and British Libraries. His works are mostly in pen and ink (demonstrating the influence of Durer) or watercolour, the majority with single figures.
- 1865–1870. First Neo-classical period: With Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893) at the head of the Aesthetic School of painters. Structures more complex and geometrically arranged. Drawings often in red chalk on coarse textured paper with dark shadows; drapery folded simply.
- 1870–1885. Second Neo-classical period influenced by the drapery of Greek statuary and the figures in contrapposto from Michelangelo. Drawing in fine lines and soft shadows; drapery suggested by curving parallel lines.
- 1885-1898. Byzantine period: elongated figures with simple lines of drapery. Lesser works returning to the sentiment of the earlier periods and containing a personal symbolism.
Philip Burne-Jones, Notes on some unfinished works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bt., The Magazine of Art, 1900, pp.160-1.