‘Poetic Narrative in William Morris’ and Edward Burne-Jones’ Pygmalion project’

Yeates, Amelia (2018) ‘Poetic Narrative in William Morris’ and Edward Burne-Jones’ Pygmalion project’. In: Poetry in Painting: The Lyrical Voice of Pre-Raphaelite Paintings. edited by Sophie Andres and Brian Donnelly. Peter Lang, pp. 107-120.

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During the 1860s William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones worked closely together on the collaborative project of The Earthly Paradise. A lengthy poem written by Morris in the vein of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Earthly Paradise was published in three volumes between 1868 and 1870 and was intended to be illustrated throughout with designs by Burne-Jones. Ultimately, the illustrated volumes proved overly ambitious and the poem was published with only a frontispiece by Burne-Jones. However, by this time the artist had undertaken many illustrations for the individual poems that make up the collective narrative, including several for ‘Pygmalion and the Image’, the classical story of the Cypriot sculptor who falls in love with his own creation, which is re-told in Morris’ Earthly Paradise. These designs would form the basis for finished paintings; in the case of Pygmalion and the Image Burne-Jones produced a set of four paintings in 1868-70 and another set in 1875-78, based directly on his illustrations to Morris’ Pygmalion poem. While these paintings are often referred to in accounts of Burne-Jones’ work, they have rarely received any sustained attention. When the works are discussed they are usually given a biographical interpretation, seen as an expression of Burne-Jones’ feelings for the artist Maria Zambaco, with whom he was having an affair when the design for the paintings was worked out. Going beyond such biographical interpretations, this essay seeks instead to closely relate the Pygmalion and the Image paintings to the Morris poem which inspired them, and argue for a textual-visual relationship which has yet to receive the attention it deserves. The essay will explore the relationship between the paintings and the poem, considering aspects such as treatment of the Pygmalion narrative (especially around the climactic transformation scene), compositional and illustrative devices, as well as the degree to which both artists engaged with the Ovidian version of the Pygmalion story, a textual archetype which is again usually neglected in discussions of both Morris’ and Burne-Jones’ treatments of Pygmalion. The essay will therefore consider Morris’ and Burne-Jones’ engagement with the Pygmalion myth as a collaborative project – resulting in one lengthy poem, over forty-five drawings and two sets of paintings – rather than isolating the paintings as expressions of personal romantic desires. Such an approach is especially important given that Burne-Jones and Morris were not alone in treating the Pygmalion myth – William Bell Scott, George Frederic Watts, John William Waterhouse, John Tenniel, Robert Buchanan, Thomas Woolner and Andrew Lang also produced poetic or visual versions of the Pygmalion story. Considering Morris’ and Burne-Jones’ treatments of Pygmalion in relation to these contemporary representations of the myth can help to suggest the cultural appeal of the Pygmalion story, beyond any personal resonance it may have held for the artist or writer. The essay seeks therefore to recover the contemporary inter-textual/visual relationship of Morris’ and Burne-Jones’ original collaborative project, as well as its engagement with textual traditions of Pygmalion, and with other contemporary visual and literary representations of Pygmalion.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > Fine and Applied Art (up to 30th April 2018)
Depositing User: Amelia Yeates
Date Deposited: 02 Jan 2018 16:08
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2018 10:03
URI: https://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/2329

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