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Edward Burne-Jones 'The Garden Court'. Image courtesy of The Faringdon Collection Trust

Five things you need to know about Edward Burne-Jones

Tate Britain is hosting a whole exhibition dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones. But who exactly was he, and why should you care enough to visit this show?

By Rosemary Waugh
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Sir Edward Burne-Jones; William Morris by Federick Hollyer (1874) © National Portrait Gallery

1. He was besties with William Morris

Residents of Walthamstow rejoice! E B-J was brothers-in-arms with Lloyd Park’s most famous resident. They shared everything, from failed careers as priests to a deep appreciation of pre-industrial Britain and hipster beards. (They might have also shared Ed’s wife, but that’s another story.) Here you’ll have the chance to see the tapestries the artist made as part of Morris’s revolutionary Arts and Crafts Movement.

Edward Burne-Jones 'The Rock of Doom'. Image courtesy of Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

2. He was obsessed with myths and legends

Nothing captured Burne-Jones’s imagination quite like the tales of yesteryear. His works are filled with age-old stories, from Medusa in ancient Greece to King Arthur in medieval England. He then gave his pictures wonderfully emo names like ‘The Rock of Doom’ and ‘The Doom Fulfilled’. Lots of doom. It’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ but with less rape and more swooning maidens next to flowers.

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Edward Burne-Jones 'Perseus and the Sea Nymphs (The Arming of Perseus)'. Image courtesy of Southampton City Art Gallery

3. One was never enough

Burne-Jones returned to his favourite topics again and again, creating whole cycles of epic paintings. This exhibition contains two major series by the artist, shown together for the first time. One is ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’, four panels based on ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and the second is the artist’s unfinished ‘Perseus’ series, in which a naked lady is heroically rescued from becoming a sea creature’s dinner.

Edward Burne-Jones 'Desiderium'. Image courtesy of Tate.

4. He liked big necks

As Sir Mix-a-Lot taught us, some men really like large derrières. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included Burne-Jones, felt the same way about necks. Check out, for example, ‘Desiderium’, a preliminary sketch for ‘The Masque of Cupid’. The woman has a neck that could double as a blueprint for The Gherkin, a neck that would make a horse proud. Why? No idea, they just really loved big necks.

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Edward Burne-Jones 'The Rose Bower'. Image courtesy of The Faringdon Collection Trust

5. He’s partly responsible for hippie fashion

The long, free-flowing fashions painted by the Victorians not only inspired clothing at the time, but also the psychedelic hippie wear of the 1970s. Luxury shopping heaven Liberty’s of London – who originally worked with Morris on textile designs – enjoyed mass popularity in the era of peace signs and dropping out. Suddenly, everyone wanted to get stoned while dressed like a medieval princess. And maybe after seeing this show, you will too.  

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