Friday, June 1, 2012

Character Sketches: Topsy and Ned

It's no secret that these two are my favorites of the Pre-Raphaelites...

The very first sketchbook drawing of the Dynamic Duo.
The first cartoon sketches I did of any of the the Pre-Raphaelites were of Topsy and Ned, aka William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Because of their close friendship and their very obvious physical differences, they are the most fun to draw.

This is the first of the cartoons I also inked, at the request of Grace Nuth (of The Beautiful Necessity blog) to be turned into a t-shirt.
and here's the lovely Grace wearing hers (and standing infront of the awesome  Kelmscott silhouettes she made of Topsy and Ned):

So, who are these guys??

Edward Burne-Jones

Ted Jones, as he was known in the early days ("Ned" and "Burne" came later) was the only son of a widowed framemaker in Birmingham and they didn't have a lot of money. However, young Jones was a very smart boy who excelled in school and spent most of his time drawing and reading. He eventually ended up in Oxford
University and it was here that he met his peculiar and brilliant friend William Morris who shared his interests in medieval
history and King Arthur.

"The Beguiling of Merlin", probably Burne-Jones'
most well-known painting.

Both Morris and Jones dropped out of university to pursue the dreams of being an architect (Morris) and a painter (Jones). They avidly read John Ruskin's philosophies on art and this led them to seek out Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a mentor. This of course would change both their lives in very significant ways. (Rossetti had that effect on people.)

Ted became "Ned" and added the hyphenated "Burne" to his last name for a bit more pizzazz. A workaholic like his friend and largely self-taught, his dreamy painting style became increasingly sophisticated the more he studied art from the Italian Renaissance.

Physically, Ned was tall, pale, thin and often sickly. He was described as very shy-- at least in the beginning. He had a particular fondness for pretty young ladies that he considered "chivalrous".
(Georgie, his loyal and long-suffering wife, might have had other opinions on the matter.)
He also considered himself hopelessly plain and often drew himself like this:

He did have a wicked sense of humor and would draw cartoons his entire life (mostly in letters) for his own and others' amusement. He would go on to becoming one of the most celebrated artists of his time and ultimately accepting  a baronetcy, becoming Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

William Morris

Oh, where to start...?

William Morris, in contrast to his friend Ned, came from a large wealthy family. As a child Morris was very interested in nature and all things medieval , even having a small suit of armor of his own in which he rode his pony through Epping Forest.

When he attended Exeter College (in Oxford), he, like his new friend Ned Jones, was studying to become a priest.

"To grow like Topsy" was a saying that originated from the novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and this is where Morris got his nickname. (And for his mop of unruly curly hair which seemed to have a life of its own.)

In college, Topsy became disillusioned with religion and became a romantic. He began to write epic poetry (which he would continue to write to great acclaim for the rest of his life) and he would soon trade architecture for art when Rossetti encouraged it. While he dabbled in painting, he found his true talent actually lay in design work.

Topsy was on the short side and had a voracious appetite which caused his girth to increase and his friends to mercilessly draw cartoons mocking this. He also had a spectacular temper and a booming voice. (This voice would come in handy later in life when he would address crowds during his socialist campaigns.)

He organized a firm of "decorative artists" who would revolutionize home arts with attention to the hand-crafted, making (among many other things) textiles, furniture, pottery and stained glass. He employed his Pre-Raphaelite friends Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown in the early days of the Firm. Only Ned was to remain.

Then there was the matter of Janey, his wife... But this I'll leave to another post.

"The Tree of Life" tapestry, designed by William Morris.

 He is hailed as the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was the first major offshoot of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Not only was Morris an expert craftsman reknowned for his original hand-drawn patterns and designs, he was also a writer of fantasy novels that were to inspire Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in the next century.

In later life, Morris, despite his wealth, campaigned for socialism. This is where he and his longtime friend Edward Burne-Jones took philosophically different paths. While the originally poor Jones accepted a title, the rich Morris scorned the aristocracy.


They remained friends for life.

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