Monday, February 24, 2014

Really Old Old-School Artist: Edward Burne-Jones

First off, I can't believe it's been so long since I did one of my "Really Old, Old-school Artists" posts. Second, cannot believe I have not heretofore covered Edward Burne-Jones.

One of my earliest posts on this blog (back in my second-ever month of blogging) I wrote an article entitled "How the Industrial Revolution Inspired the Original Fantasy Game: A Brief Timeline." In that post, I spoke about the importance of writer/type designer/book publisher William Morris, and how his book The Story of the Glittering Plain was a direct influence on Tolkien, and through Tolkien was an influence on Gygax, and through Gygax was an influence on modern RPGs. Edward Burne-Jones was one of Morris's right-hand men. Not only was Burne-Jones a co-founder of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (a furnishing and decorative arts manufacturer), but one of Morris's main book designers for the Kelmscott Press (founded by Morris in 1891 to publish limited-edition, illuminated-style print books).

Burne-Jones (or, more formally, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet) was an artist/designer with toes in many pools (painting, stained glass, book design & illustrator, et al.), and his work in those pools was directly tied to the late Pre-Raphaelite movement. The Pre-Raphaelites were seeking to bring more realism to the "contrived" (my word) nature of the classical approach favored by the Mannerists that succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. Eventually, some of the PR's romantic fascination with medieval culture started to clash with this realism, leading to a falling out between the realists and medievalists among their number, Burne-Jones siding with the latter when the group split.

Why do I go through this whole bit of background before I show you some cool old illustrations? Because if Burne-Jones were more of a realist than medievalist, I doubt I'd be featuring him at all. Why? Because I'd rather see Burne-Jones illustrate the works of Chaucer (see below) than Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some very cool illustrations by Burne-Jones's contemporaries for works by Coleridge, and at some point will most likely feature a few of those illustrators on this very blog. But... when you look at BJ's images below (all of which were taken from The Kelmscott Chaucer, published by William Morris's Kelmscott Press in 1896), you can see how most of the illustrations almost suggest encounter or plot points for an adventure.

I'm also including a couple of full page designs, so you can also see Burne-Jones's incredible ornamentation and lettering design. The only person that I think worked as well (actually better) at Morris's book-side was Walter Crane. To me, Crane's work has a bit more "energy" than Burne-Jones's. But Burne-Jones's work is very cool nonetheless. See for yourself...

1 comment:

  1. Morris was a huge influence on Tolkien. He had a character named Gandalf in one of his books, I believe Well at the World's End. Except Gandalf was a bad guy.

    The art is beautiful.