Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones – The Knights Tale

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Wood-engraving on paper with pencil inscription in the margin (lower right). Numbered 409, in pencil on reverse. Proof of an illustration designed by Burne-Jones for the Kelmscott “Chaucer”: p.30, ‘The Knight’s Tale’, with a knight in armour holding the hand of a lady, while another knight lies on a tomb behind. Block cut by: William Harcourt Hooper. Printed on laid paper by The Kelmscott Press, circa 1896. Presented in a new mount. Provenance: Ex collection of the artist John Cherrington.

 

Description

William Morris, the 19th-century designer, social reformer and writer, founded the Kelmscott Press towards the end of his life. He wanted to revive the skills of hand printing, which mechanisation had destroyed, and restore the quality achieved by the pioneers of printing in the 15th century.

The magnificent The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer was published in 1896. Its 87 wood-cut illustrations are by Edward Burne-Jones, the celebrated Victorian painter, who was a life-long friend of Morris. The illustrations were engraved by William Harcourt Hooper.

The Kelmscott edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales set a new benchmark for book design at the end of the 19th century. It was also the last great project of Morris’s life, bringing together two of his passions. First, his love of medieval literature, which inspired the subjects and style of much of his own writing. Second, his socialist philosophy, which looked back to a time before mechanisation and division of labour had destroyed, as he saw it, the personal fulfilment and social function of meaningful work.

The book was exceptional in its ambitious number of illustrations and rich decorative borders. ‘If we live to finish it,’ Burne-Jones wrote, ‘it will be like a pocket cathedral – so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world.’

Brand

Burne-Jones, Edward (1833-1898)

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet, original name Edward Coley Burne Jones, (born Aug. 28, 1833, Birmingham, Eng.—died June 17, 1898, London), one of the leading painters and designers of late 19th-century England, whose romantic paintings using medieval imagery were among the last manifestations of the Pre-Raphaelite style. More long-lasting is his influence as a pioneer of the revival of the ideal of the “artist-craftsman,” so influential to the development of 20th-century industrial design. Burne-Jones was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where he met his future collaborator, the artist-poet William Morris, then a fellow divinity student. His meeting with the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1856 marked a turning point in his career, and he left Oxford without graduating. Morris and he then settled in London, working under Rossetti’s guidance. Burne-Jones’s vivid imagination delighted in the stories of medieval chivalry, as is seen in his “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid” (1884) and “Merlin and Nimue” (1858–59). Stylistically, such works owe much to Rossetti’s illustrations, but more often his own dream world drew inspiration from the melancholy, attenuated figures of the 15th-century Italian painters Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli, suffusing them with a mood of romantic mysticism. His first big success came with an exhibition in 1877, which included oils such as “Days of Creation,” “The Beguiling of Merlin” (1872–77), and “The Mirror of Venus” (1867–77). From that date until his death, he was increasingly considered to be among the great painters of England. In 1894 he received a baronetcy. After his death, Burne-Jones’s influence was felt far less in painting than in the field of decorative design, particularly in that of ecclesiastical stained glass. He executed reliefs in metals, tiles, and gesso, decorations for pianos and organs, and cartoons for tapestries. Among the latter may be noted the “Adoration of the Magi” (Exeter College Chapel, Oxford). Besides several illustrations to other books printed by William Morris’ prestigious Kelmscott Press, he made 87 designs for the Kelmscott Chaucer of 1896, considered to be among the world’s finest printed books.
Sheet:

6 in x 8 in. (15.3 cm x 20.2 cm.)

Image

4 7/8 in x 6 5/8 in. (12.5 cm x 16.9 cm.)

Frame or Mount

Mount: 12 in x 13 3/4 in. (30.5 cm x 35 cm.)