Edward Burne-Jones was born August 28, at 11 Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham to Edward Richard Jones. His mother died shortly after Edward’s birth leaving him to be brought up by his father, a gilder and frame maker. . He was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, and, since he was a gifted draughtsman, also attended a government School of Design on three evenings a week. In 1853 he went to Exeter College, Oxford, with the intention of eventually entering the Church. There he met William Morris, who was to become his lifelong friend and an associate in a number of decorative projects.
He studied with Rossetti, but developed his own style influenced by his travels in Italy with Ruskin and others. Under Morris’s influence he decided to become an artist and designer. After Oxford, from which he did not take a degree, he became closely involved in the revival of the tradition of stained glass art in England. He was an expert craftsman in the medium and he lectured on the subject at the Working Men’s College. Figures were his speciality.
In 1860 Burne-Jones married Georgiana Macdonald, the sister of an old school friend. Their first home was at Great Russell Street, in rooms vacated by Henry Wallis, and they were regular guests of William and Jane Morris at Red House, which Burne-Jones helped to decorate. He designed stained glass for several manufacturers before becoming the principal designer for Morris’ firm, especially after its reconstitution in 1875.
Enjoying the patronage of John Ruskin, who accompanied him and Georgiana on a second trip to Italy in 1862, Burne-Jones began to develop a personal style in which elements of Rossettian Pre-Raphaelitism were fused with the influence of classical art and Old Master painting. The discipline of drawing, preferably from the live model, became a daily practice after he settled in The Grange, Fulham, in 1867.
Around 1885 his work began to achieve higher prices at auction. His reputation continued to grow until he eventually became a hero of the Aesthetic Movement of the 1880s. He was invited to exhibit at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889 where his work was a great triumph with the public. He was awarded a first-class medal, and this established him as an important artist in Europe. Fame at home was reinforced by the exhibition of his Briar Rose series – based on the story of Sleeping Beauty – at Agnew’s gallery in London in 1890. Burne-Jones drew his inspiration for the Briar Rose cycle from the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy-tale, which had been retold in the eighteenth century by Charles Perrault in his Contes du Temps Passé and by Tennyson in his 1842 poem ‘Day Dream’. Burne-Jones chose to focus on a single moment from the famous story – when the brave prince, having battled through the briar wood, first comes upon the bewitched court and the princess he is to awake with a kiss.
Burne-Jones was made a baronet in 1894 and died on June 17th 1898. Six days later at the intervention of the Prince of Wales, a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey, the first time any artist had been so honoured. He was was buried in the churchyard at Rottingdean, Sussex, where he had a country home.
The Christ Church Southgate windows based on Burne-Jones designs include the eight windows of the North Aisle representing the Christian virtues. The windows were all given to the church as memorials over a period of forty years following its dedication. Although the windows were installed at different times, there is remarkable consistency in the drawing, colouring and surrounds. Morris & Co clearly carried a complete set of Burne-Jones cartoons. In the studio the drawing would be reproduced to fit the window for which it was commissioned and the background and surround would be designed by another artist. In the case of Christ Church Southgate Philip Speakman Webb was responsible for most of the ornamental detail. There are samples of his work in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Burne-Jones also designed the two large lancet windows in the chancel on the left when facing the altar. The Times orbituary for Burne-Jones refers to ‘a loveliness of colour’ in his work and the windows in Christ Church Southgate show his full range from the strength of the North Aisle images to the delicacy of the chancel windows. The left chancel window represents Dorcas standing over a seated bareheaded girl offering her a cloak. (‘I was naked and ye clothed me’ Mathew 25:36). The right hand window shows the Good Samaritan comforting a traveller who is lying on the ground by holding a flask to his lips. (‘I was sick and ye visited me.’)
Burne-Jones’ account book records ‘Southgate. Small design of good Samaritan and touching photograph if needful…£10. (Charles Sewter ‘The Stained Glass of William Morris and His Circle – A Catalogue’) Sewter suggests that this is unmistakable evidence that the cartoons were prepared by photographic enlargements of Burne-Jones’s smaller drawings.