Edward Burne-Jones is so inextricably linked with William Morris that it is sometimes difficult to remember that one was not the employee of the other. The link with Morris is usually seen through the work that Burne-Jones supplied for the Morris & Co company over a long and extensive period that marked some of the high points of Burne-Jones prolific career. The disciplines of stained glass and tapestry proved particularly popular with Morris & Co. Stained glass was such a strong staple in the early years of Morris's company that at times it kept Morris's company afloat financially.
The style of Burne-Jones never changed significantly between disciplines, or across the decades, so that the characters in his stained glass design work looked very similar to the figures he produced in his tapestry work, and in particular that of his fine art pieces.
Burne-Jones was always concerned about his own finances, or to be more exact, the perceived lack of finance. To be fair, Burne-Jones did not come from as comfortably a wealthy background as Morris, and was therefore continually unsure as to his financial position. Even when he was considered a successful artist, he often wrote to Morris directly, or more often than not, to Morris's manager, complaining of being underpaid, or having to wait too long for payment from the company. However, he was always loyal to Morris and supplied him with design work throughout his lifetime, despite knowing that he could achieve better results, financially, elsewhere.
Burne-Jones artwork tended to be remote and fixed and some have even said wooden. The figures seem unemotional, veering towards being classed as statuesque. Some critics have even implied that statuesque is an apt and derogatory description as he merely copied classically derived sculpture, producing template figures that were then placed within a composition. Whatever the truth, although the figures do not engage the viewer directly, there is something decidedly attractive, almost spiritual, about the compositions.
Illustration: Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, 1890.
It is interesting to note that often William Morris was involved with the construction of the compositions that were used for the Burne-Jones tapestries. They were often composites, with Burne-Jones supplying the figures while Morris designed the backgrounds on which the figures would be placed in the foreground of. Hence, the enormous supplies of foliage and floral accessories, making some of the tapestry backgrounds exceedingly busy. However, perhaps this was part of the magic of the compositions, allowing Burne-Jones contribution to appear calm and distant against Morris's tangled, vibrant backgrounds.
Burne-Jones tapestries are still held in high regard today and are often copied, though not always closely and successfully. How successful the tapestries would have been without William Morris, is hard to tell. How successful they would have been without Edward Burne-Jones is obvious. There would have been copious amounts of foliage, but probably little else.
Links to other Burne Jones articles can be found at the Designer Index tab at the top of the page. An ebook Victorian Medievalism, which deals with aspects of Burne Jones medieval-inspired themes, can also be found at the Ebook tab, also at the top of the page, or alternatively on the right hand side of this article.
Further reading links: