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Sir Edward Burne-Jones

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Edward Burne-Jones

by Barbara Sotheby (née Leighton), printed by Frederick Hollyer
platinum print, 27 July 1890
13 1/8 in. x 10 1/8 in. (333 mm x 257 mm)
Given by Ernest E. Leggatt, 1922
Photographs Collection
NPG x13185

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  • London : Royal Academy of Arts, 2003., Pre-Raphaelite and other masters : the Andrew Lloyd-Webber Collection., 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from Royal Academy of Arts, 20 Sept. - 12 Dec. 2003.), p. 63 figure 1
  • Marsh, Jan, Insights: The Pre-Raphaelite Circle, 2005, p. 4
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 121 Read entry

    As an undergraduate at Oxford in the early 1850s Burne-Jones met William Morris and founded with him The Brotherhood, a group of friends who worshipped the Middle Ages, visited churches, read Ruskin and Tennyson, and who in effect constituted a little 'romantic movement' of their own. While still an undergraduate Burne-Jones came to London to meet Rossetti, who persuaded him to give up university and to learn to paint. The combined influences of medieval romance and the Pre-Raphaelites dominated the whole of his later career as artist and designer.

    This photograph shows Burne-Jones towards the end of his life, when bouts of illness had convinced him that he had not long to live. He is at work in the Garden Studio of his house, The Grange, North End Lane, Fulham, on his vast watercolour The Star of Bethlehem (completed early 1891; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). Burne-Jones said of his labours on this picture: 'And a tiring thing it is, physically, to do, up my steps and down, and from right to left. I have journeyed as many miles as ever the kings travelled'.

    The photographer Barbara Leighton, whose name is recorded in Lady Burne-Jones' Memorials of her husband (1904) is otherwise unknown. She may perhaps have been 'the young girl who', as Lady Burne-Jones recalls, 'asked him [Burne-Jones] as she watched him painting "The Star of Bethlehem", whether he believed in it, he answered: "It is too beautiful not to be true"’.

    This photograph has in the past been wrongly attributed to Frederick Hollyer, who did however make this platinum print from Barbara Leighton's 15 x 12 inch negative. This belonged to Sir Emery Walker, and is now also in the Gallery's collection.

  • Various, William Morris: Words & Wisdom, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 16 October 2014 - 11 January 2015)

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Current affairs

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, publishes In Darkest England, in which he compares the supposedly 'civilised' England with 'Darkest Africa'. A critique of the degenerate state of society, Booth also proposed social welfare schemes to alleviate the sufferings of the urban poor.
The world's first electric underground railway opens to the public in London, passing under the Thames and linking the City of London and Stockwell.

Art and science

William Morris founds the Kelmscott Press, a revival of art and craft techniques of book printing. Publications included The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896), with decorative designs and typeface by Morris and illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones.
Vincent Van Gogh dies after shooting himself in the chest in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray first appears in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine .


Cecil Rhodes, organiser of the diamond-mining De Beers Consolidated Mines, becomes premier of Cape Colony as part of his expansionist aims in South Africa.
In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismisses Otto von Bismarck.
An international anti-slavery conference is held in Brussels, leading to the signing of a treaty by all the major maritime nations covering action to be taken against the trade in Africa and suppression of it by sea.

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