Myths, Legends And Beauty: Edward Burne-Jones At Tate Britain

Edward Burne-Jones, Tate Britain ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 12 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Myths, Legends And Beauty: Edward Burne-Jones At Tate Britain Edward Burne-Jones, Tate Britain 4
Atlas is turned to stone by the head of Medusa, as Perseus flies by. Image courtesy Southampton city art gallery.

Perseus goes on a quest to chop off Medusa's head, returning to save the beautiful Andromeda before she's devoured by a sea monster sent by Poseidon. It's a story familiar to anyone who knows their Greek mythology or has watched Clash of the Titans.

The story also unfolds at Tate Britain across ten glorious paintings by Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.  Every scene is filled with dynamism, including a winged, sandal-wearing Perseus flying past Atlas and using Medusa's head to turn Atlas to stone. It's a fantastic set of paintings, but it's only one room in a major show dedicated to the artist at Tate Britain.

A more typically Pre-Raphaelite painting showing ladies relaxing. Image courtesy Laing Art Gallery.

The opening room of this show highlights what a versatile artist Burne-Jones was, with drawing, painting, stained glass and an illustrated book on display. Our favourite in this first room is a panel from a piano that was presented to Burne-Jones and his wife Georgiana. Edward Burne-Jones saw fit to adorn it with a painting of death approaching an assortment of relaxing women. If a man were to paint this on a wedding present today, we imagine the police may be called, but it was the norm for the quirky Burne-Jones.

His quirkiness and heavily stylised paintings are why we've always been fond of his work and this show doesn't disappoint. A commissioned portrait makes the sitter look more like a ghost, and outrage was caused when he painted a man who was fully nude — back then it was perfectly fine to display women nude, but not men. We can almost hear the outrage as monocles crack out of sheer indecency.

The Briar Rose series contains sleeping folk across a series of fantastic paintings. Image courtesy Faringdon Collection Trust.

Burne-Jones painted a mermaid dragging a sailor to his death, but the little smile on the mermaid's face makes it quite the disturbing scene as if she's enjoying murdering someone. Controversy was stirred again with his painting of a beggar maid that a King falls in love with. The King lays down his crown and looks at the maid, who looks back at us the viewer. The establishment of the time were not happy for his portraying a scene that showed love transcended wealth — how dare he suggest that people may rise above their station?

The show ends on another high note of versatility as we see the massive tapestries that Burne-Jones created and a marvellous piano that he has painted over, with Mother Earth appearing on the inner lid.

In this religious scene William & Jane Morris are used to model the Virgin and King, while a version of Burne-Jones hovers in the background. Image courtesy Manchester Metropolitan University.

Edward Burne-Jones had a recognisable, over-the-top style that makes him stand out from the other Pre-Raphaelites. We know his stylised works aren't to everyone's tastes but we love his fantastical art.

Edward Burne-Jones is on at Tate Britain until 24 February 2019. Tickets are £18.  Also still on at Tate Britain (until 6 January 2019) is the Turner Prize, here's what we thought of the candidates.

Last Updated 24 October 2018