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The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination [Hardcover]

Fiona MacCarthy
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2011

From the prize winning author of William Morris comes a new biography of Edward Burne-Jones, the greatest British artist of the second half of the nineteenth century.

The angels on our Christmas cards, the stained glass in our churches, the great paintings in our galleries -- Edward Burne-Jones's work is all around us. The most admired British artist of his generation, he was a leading figure with Oscar Wilde in the aesthetic movement of the 1880s, inventing what became a widespread 'Burne-Jones look'. The bridge between Victorian and modern art, he influenced not just his immediate circle but artists such as Klimt and Picasso.

In this gripping book Fiona MacCarthy explores and re-evaluates his art and life -- his battle against vicious public hostility, the romantic susceptibility to female beauty that would inspire his art and ruin his marriage, his ill health and depressive sensibility, the devastating rift with his great friend and collaborator William Morris as their views on art and politics diverged.

With new research and fresh historical perspective, The Last Pre-Raphaelite tells the extraordinary, dramatic story of Burne-Jones as an artist, a key figure in Victorian society and a peculiarly captivating man.

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The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination + William Morris: A Life for Our Time
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (1 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571228615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571228614
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 175,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Generously illustrated with paintings, stained glass and photographs of the leading characters ... Fiona MacCarthy has brought [Burne-Jones] vividly to life. --The Economist

This magnificent and deeply felt biography brings with it a sense of completion, not least in its account of one of the greatest and most fruitful Victorian friendships. --Rosemary Hill, Guardian

A true pleasure to read - a triumph of biographical art. --Jan Marsh, Independent Book of the Week

'Her scholarship is exemplary; her style fluent; her judgement discriminating; above all, she makes her galère come vividly alive. Her book is fun to read.' --Philip Ziegler, Spectator

A true pleasure to read - a triumph of biographical art.' -- Jan Marsh, Independent Book of the Week >> 'Don t imagine that you re going to be stuck in some vaporous realm of medieval valour or religious piety. This is a far more human story ... sets Burne-Jones at the heart of his era with convincing imaginary force and widely encompassing scholarly range.' -- Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times >> 'Wonderful ... This is the perfect coming together of biographer and subject.' -- Michael Holroyd, Guardian >> 'A terrific study . . . MacCarthy writes so energetically that she caught me up in her enthusiasm.' -- Frank Whitford, Sunday Times >> 'The book that I am hoping to find in my Christmas stocking ... I have enjoyed all Fiona MacCarthy s biographies and I cannot believe that this will disappoint.' -- --AN Wilson, Observer

'Her scholarship is exemplary; her style fluent; her judgement discriminating; above all, she makes her galère come vividly alive. Her book is fun to read.' --Philip Ziegler, Spectator

A true pleasure to read - a triumph of biographical art. --Jan Marsh, Independent Book of the Week

'The best real biography I read this year ... a masterpiece of control.' -- James Ferguson, TLS >> 'A narrative feat which gives a detailed account of the Victorian immersion in its great lake of sentiment, mystic feelings and good cheer, and in the period waters of duality.' --Karl Miller, TLS

A true pleasure to read - a triumph of biographical art. --Jan Marsh, Independent Book of the Week

Book Description

A wonderful evocation of highly celebrated period of art history from one of the most acclaimed biographers of our time.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The quest for beauty and the quest for love 13 Sep 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When it was announced that one of our greatest writers of biography, Fiona MacCarthy, was preparing a biography of Edward Burne-Jones there were many who waited eagerly for its publication - the book, which took 6 years to write, does not disappoint. Indeed, it is probably one of the very best biographies in our time of an artist, of the same insightful quality as the author's own prize-winning biography of William Morris William Morris: A Life for Our Time. It is fitting that it is Fiona MacCarthy who now tells us about the other side of a friendship, between Morris and Burne-Jones, which began when they met as students in Oxford. It is no exaggeration to say that this friendship completely changed the face of English art and design. Although she asserts early in the book that Burne-Jones was the greater artist while Morris was `unarguably the greater man', by the time that you finish this book you realise that this is only a relative judgement because Burne-Jones was also a great man. He was much loved and admired: Kipling said `He was more to me than any man here... The man was a God to me.'; Henry James said `He was a wonderfully nice creature'; and the American poet Emma Lazarus considered him `so gentle, so kind and earnest and so full of poetry and imagination that he shines out of all the people I have seen, with a sort of glamour of his own.'
But Burne-Jones was a very private man and a challenge to a biographer. Luckily, his devoted wife Georgiana wrote a wonderful, sensitive and loyal account of him soon after he died
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars story of a life 13 Nov 2011
By loppy
I bought this book because I had recently read the author's biography of William Morris, which I loved, so I leaped at the chance to read about his life long friend, Burne-Jones. I have given the book five stars although I did not warm to it as much as I did to the William Morris volume, because I personally prefer Morris, who is in some ways more straightforward and/or did not leave so many clues to his personal feelings. However, on finishing the book I felt I had gained insight into Burne-Jones himself (and liked him better), plus insight into the times he lived in and another context for Morris in the person and life of his best friend who was yet so different from him. The book paints a picture of the era without ever losing sight of the fact that it is about one man's trajectory through it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is a thorough, well researched biography. We are taken chronologically through Burne-Jones' life, with all the major events described and the contemporaries he encountered.

And yet, something is missing. The first is context. The author, Fiona MacCarthy, does not really make clear the impact Burne-Jones' paintings had when they were first exhibited; it really is not enough to say they were a reaction against the crass materialism of the age. The phrase 'Victorian imagination' is used in the biography's sub-title, yet we are told little about what constitutes this 'imagination'.

Secondly, we are not given enough information about the paintings themselves, more particularly the techniques Burne-Jones used.

The list of sources consulted runs to five pages, yet one of the most intriguing ones, the record of conversations between Burne-Jones and his assistant Thomas Rooke, receives scant attention in the text. It might also have been interesting to read MacCarthy's views on why Burne-Jones took so long to finish his paintings, sometimes spending years on a canvas without completing it.

Enjoyable, but it needed more analysis.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer Bliss 23 Dec 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The best biography I have read in a long time. I enjoyed Penelope Fitzgerald's book on Burne-Jones, written over thirty years ago and didn't know how this one would compare, or if it would just go over the same ground. Happily it was as different as could be while covering the same subject. The author obviously had access to additional material and has produced a fast-paced entertaining account of the life and values of one of Victorian England's greatest and most visionary artists. I literally couldn't put it down and was very sorry when I finished it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So many words obscure the light 22 Jan 2013
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
Burne-Jones sought lifelong escapism into the world of mythical romance as a reaction to the ugliness of a childhood in industrial Birmingham. When his deep friendship with William Morris was finally fractured by the latter's involvement with active socialism, Burne Jones wrote of his desire to take refuge in the artistic work which he could control.

He had some strokes of luck: Rossetti found commissions for him to design stained glass - often for the very wealthy industrialists responsible for the world he hated; Ruskin paid for a couple of trips to Italy where he discovered at that time little-known painters such as Botticelli or Piero della Francesca who were to influence his work, and despite his uncertain income Burne-Jones seems to have been welcomed by her parents as a fiancé for Georgie Macdonald. His repayment for her loyalty was a steamy affair with the flamboyant Greek artist Maria Zambaco, the muse for some of his most famous paintings, as were also some of the pale and interesting younger women with whom he liked to flirt. Highly successful and made a baronet in his lifetime, Burne Jones was a prolific artist, despite his disorganised approach.

It is understandable that Fiona MacCarthy's encyclopaedic knowledge, the result of six year's spent researching Byrne-Jones, led her to produce a work of 536 pages, excluding notes, so heavy that it splits at the seams as you read it (although a Kindle version is available) but I found it on balance a laborious slog not only because of the length but also the structure. The decision to base each chapter on a different location linked to the artist's life in chronological order leads to a fragmentation of themes and repetition of some points.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent value
Published 8 days ago by C M Charlett
4.0 out of 5 stars her writing style is very fluid and easily digestible - more on the...
A very comprehensive and fascinating account/record of EBJ's personal and professional life as a painter which also revealed, in my view, a rather creepy approach in life to his... Read more
Published 12 days ago by Neil Cochrane
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Recommend
Fabulous big book by acclaimed biographer (Her William Morris was fabulous though a bit heavy going at times, like Morris himself). Lots of photos and interesting snippets. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Carol
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well done, Fiona MacCarthy!!!!
The author is witty, and immediate, in that she makes the frankest and often unsettling comments on the artists and those associated with them. eg women . Read more
Published 8 months ago by claire miles
5.0 out of 5 stars Edward Burne-Jones
We have visited a couple of Exhibitions featuring the works of Edward Burne-Jones and we have found the publication to be an excellent text book. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. C. E. Leach
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading if you are a Pre-Raphaelite fan.
Very good companion to understand elements of his art and talent. Sympathetically written, for clarity of facts and sense of the Victorian age
Published 12 months ago by susie52
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great one from Fiona McCarthy!
This is another massive work by Fiona McCarthy. I am a great fan of her style of writing. She is meticulous in her research , and somehow she always manages to find interesting... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ms. Moira Clarke
5.0 out of 5 stars London in the 1870s
was a happening place, just like now! Apart from that, this is an absorbing and well crafted biography that I really enjoyed and became pretty immersed in
Published 16 months ago by Mr. R. C. Golten
4.0 out of 5 stars Christmas Gift
This book was asked for from a member of my family for a Christmas Gift, and he was very grateful.
Published 19 months ago by Deborah Dunkley
5.0 out of 5 stars As full of detail as his paintings
This is a thorough and very well-written biography of Edward Burne-Jones (1833 to 1898). He comes across as a sweet-natured, loving and lovable, witty, sensitive, and workoholic... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Ralph Blumenau
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