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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The quest for beauty and the quest for love
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...
Published on 13 Sep 2011 by A. D. Smith

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid and dependable, but lacking the analytical view
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...
Published 19 months ago by Mr. T. Harvey


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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
By 
A. D. Smith (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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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 Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, Volume 1Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, Volume 2, of which MacCarthy makes much use, together with the hundreds of letters he wrote and received - now scattered around the world and largely unpublished. She also travelled to places, especially in Italy, that meant a lot to Burne-Jones. This helps to make the book especially vivid. But in the end she says that her main source has been his incredible output of paintings, stained glass windows, tapestries, embroideries and painted furniture: `the life is there, self-evident, embedded in the art'.
As you read this gripping story, you become aware of two strong driving forces in the life of Burne-Jones: the quest for beauty and the quest for love. The first is the more public face of the man, who believed `only this is true, that beauty is very beautiful, and softens, and comforts, and inspires, and lifts up, and never fails.' His art reflects the continued quest for beauty and that is one of its great attractions, together with an indefinable quality of mood and feeling. The more private quest, that for love, is sensitively dealt with by MacCarthy who describes his friendships with numerous women and indeed with young girls. One gets the feeling that he very much needed love and also to give love. He had a special attraction to vulnerable women and in some cases this lasted a life-time. Perhaps the best documented example is his attachment to May Gaskell, so movingly told in the book by Josceline Dimbleby A Profound Secret: May Gaskell, her daughter Amy, and Edward Burne-Jones, to whom he wrote more than 700 letters over a two-year period.
It is impossible to do justice to this extraordinarily rich book in a short review. Reading it, I was amazed at how much research MacCarthy has done and how well she integrates it into a highly readable story that puts Burne-Jones in the context of Victorian England. There are many fascinating insights into Burne-Jones's paintings and, although the book has more illustrations than usual in a biography, you will want to have access to the internet or to the excellent book by Wildman and Christian Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-dreamer in order to see the paintings. One small quibble: why didn't the publisher put references to the illustrations within the text?
Without doubt, this is the definitive biography of Burne-Jones and it is likely to remain so for a long time. I urge everyone who likes his works to read it and so enrich their understanding of the man and of his work.
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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
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid and dependable, but lacking the analytical view, 14 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Paperback)
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
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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
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Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Paperback)
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. I wanted less description and more analysis and insight that was more than vague suggestions of what might have been the case. What exactly was the goal or philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelites and what was their impact, how did Burne-Jones fit into the group, what was his method of painting and so on? I would have liked more focus on a few major works, illustrated in the text, with a full discussion of each one. I gleaned little more about the painter's personality than may be found in the preface.

If some of the peripheral detail e.g. on the painter's cronies had been omitted, there would have been the space to develop some neglected aspects.
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4.0 out of 5 stars her writing style is very fluid and easily digestible - more on the lines of a novel ..., 18 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Paperback)
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 personal contacts and acquaintances particularly with females, married and unmarried, and young children. I think his long-suffering wife Georgiana had quite a lot to put up with!

This is the second book I've read by the author, Fiona MacCarthy (the first being the biography on William Morris); her writing style is very fluid and easily digestible - more on the lines of a novel - unlike the usual dry, academic approach one usually finds in books of this kind. That said the book is full of fascinating nuggets of information clearly unearthed through meticulously research which makes the book a very interesting and enjoyable read. I would certainly recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Recommend, 25 April 2014
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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. She never sits in judgement on her subjects which is refreshing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very well done, Fiona MacCarthy!!!!, 29 Dec 2013
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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 . It is fascinating how human nature expresses itself regardless of the time and place. Who would have thought Victorian England had such a 'modern' caste, yes, with the 'e', of people? Having read Van Gogh's biography recently I can see the social tendencies for young male artists on both sides of the channel are not so dissimilar. The writer also conveys enthusiasm about the artists' development of their skills and the challenges of creating specific paintings. The private life is also illuminated, concurrent with the artistic life. she is very clever. Her immediacy of style and pace makes it very interesting and sometimes eye-popping. Very well done, Fiona! I felt I was sitting sharing a drink with you, while you chatted and I listened, absorbed!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Edward Burne-Jones, 30 Aug 2013
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Mr. C. E. Leach (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Paperback)
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. As a result, we have increased our knowledge accordingly and are almost experts!

The publication is a true reference book and it will be picked up many times in the cause of learning.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading if you are a Pre-Raphaelite fan., 23 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Paperback)
Very good companion to understand elements of his art and talent. Sympathetically written, for clarity of facts and sense of the Victorian age
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