‘Manliness and Health in the Reception of Edward Burne-Jones’s Work’ (chapter in Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities: Constructions of Masculinity in Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature, ed. Amelia Yeates and Serena Trowbridge (Ashgate, 2014), pp. 81-100

Yeates, Amelia (2014) ‘Manliness and Health in the Reception of Edward Burne-Jones’s Work’ (chapter in Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities: Constructions of Masculinity in Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature, ed. Amelia Yeates and Serena Trowbridge (Ashgate, 2014), pp. 81-100. In: Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities: Constructions of Masculinity in Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature. Ashgate, Aldershot, pp. 81-100.

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Abstract

Edward Burne-Jones’ participation in the opening Grosvenor Gallery exhibition of 1877 was something of a sensation, his work having for many years been unseen by the public. Whilst friends such as Rossetti and Watts looked forward to Burne-Jones receiving the credit they believed he deserved, the reception of his work was in fact mixed. Many critics admired Burne-Jones’ painting, conceding to its beauty of design and colour, but others were troubled by whether his work represented a suitably ‘manly’ form of art. In this essay I identify a set of correlatives in responses to Burne-Jones’ work that constellate around the idea of manliness. My interest here is not in the familiar criticism of Burne-Jones’ figures as androgynous, but in the ways in which Burne-Jones’ style itself was perceived as unhealthy and unmanly and the extent to which reviewers’ comments were embedded in a gendered framework - what did manliness mean in art? What was a manly style of painting? What constituted a manly painter? These questions are explored in relation to the work of Burne-Jones and, more widely, Aestheticism. My discussion is structured around three key areas – manliness and health, nationalism and degeneracy, imitation and manufacture. I begin with manliness and health in order to establish that, underpinning the reception of art during this period, was the imperative that art be ‘healthy’ and that this was intrinsically linked to normative gender values and the need for artists to be ‘manly’. Continuing with the theme of health but with attention also to the nationalistic discourses of art criticism, I explore the concerns that Burne-Jones’ work was not only unmanly but un-English and that these complaints would find their expression in the charge of degeneracy levelled at Burne-Jones’ work. The final theme I explore is that of imitation; Burne-Jones’ work was seen as deeply imitative and archaic – traits which were opposed to masculine creativity – and was seen as repetitive in its imagery. This led some to ally it with an emasculated form of production – manufacture. After this thematic analysis I briefly consider the idea of a ‘queer Burne-Jones’, not to suggest that his work articulates a same-sex desire but to attempt to deal with the ‘otherness’ of his work – its strangeness, its non-conformist gender imagery and its apparent lack of manliness. This consideration is prompted by Henry James’ repeated description of Burne-Jones’ work as ‘queer’ at a time when the meaning of that word was unfixed (suggested by the inverted commas which James used around this term). Employing close analysis of responses in the periodical press I therefore argue that Burne-Jones’ work represented for most reviewers a threat to perceived notions of masculinity, not so only because of its androgynous figures but because of its ‘unhealthiness’, its threat to nationalistic values of Englishness and its apparent link with emasculated forms of production.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > Fine and Applied Art
Depositing User: Amelia Yeates
Date Deposited: 02 Jan 2018 16:06
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2018 16:06
URI: http://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/2328

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