Sketchbook, result 1 of 1
The famous Victorian artist-craftsman Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98) is represented in New Zealand public collections by several significant works: Dunedin Public Art Gallery has an outstanding painting, Hope, while the Auckland Art Gallery is the showroom for The car of love, a grand but unfinished drawing.
Te Papa owns an object that initially seems modest, a little octavo-sized sketchbook made on Burne-Jones's visit to Italy in 1871. The pad cost him just one shilling (10 cents) and the price is still clearly visible. With the added pencil sketches - hundreds of them on 135 pages - it is worth rather more than that today!
Our sketchbook is a window into Burne-Jones's quirky personality and the way he ticked as an artist. He loves the Piero della Francesca frescoes in Arezzo and hates the special effects of Bernini's Roman baroque architecture and sculpture. But he says of the Roman people: 'No men or women look out of their eyes as they do'. More important, the humblest of preliminary observations and sketches would be worked up into major paintings in the years ahead, making him a star of the late Victorian art world.
Burne-Jones was enchanted by the volcanic Italian landscape and how its plains alternated with dramatic hills and hill-towns, as well as its fig and olive trees. His original pencil studies of olives were modified and incorporated into a famous painting that rapidly followed on from Italy, The beguiling of Merlin (1874. Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight).
The improbably tall but narrow urban architecture of Orvieto provided a perfect backdrop for correspondingly elongated, slender maidens, as we can see in comparing Burne-Jones's notes and observations of doorways, alleyways and courtyards with his subsequent painting The Annunciation.
Burne-Jones was intrigued by what he described as an 'Etruscan' marble tomb, then located in the Capitoline Museum, Rome. It features a girl recumbent in eternal sleep, and holding poppies, which he notes as symbolising death. His source still needs identification, but Dr Nigel Spivey of Cambridge University is on to the case at the time of writing. The connection is obvious between the tomb figure and Burne-Jones's enchanted world of soporific princesses and courtiers in his celebrated Briar Rose series, based on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Burne-Jones isn't the first artist to make something highly original out of far more ancient sources.
The sketchbook was bequeathed to the National Art Gallery in 1994 by Mary Chamot, who had earlier been its London-based art adviser and who in her lifetime also donated her remarkable collection of paintings by Natalia Goncharova to the collection.
For more on Burne-Jones and Te Papa, go to Mark Stocker, https://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2018/12/21/all-i-want-for-christmas-is-burne-jones/
Dr Mark Stocker Curator Historical International Art January 2019
Now viewing Sketchbook