Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ned's Angels, Part One

(To be continued next post, BWA- Ha-ha...)

The genesis of this cartoon was seeing an illustration on the cover of the British Literary Review. There was an article inside about Fiona MacCarthy's recent biography about Edward Burne-Jones, The Last Pre-Raphaelite. (Highly recommended!) and the cover illustration showed the painter flanked by three lovely angels (angels being one of Ned's favorite subjects). I joked online that they were "Ned's Angels" and they should start a crime-fighting team.

Well, that was enough for me to get this foolishness started...

The angels in this cartoon take their names from women in which Ned was enamored with at
different points of time, most notoriously Maria.  And oh, that's quite a story..

Ned's cartoon of himself dazzled by his new model, Maria Zambaco,
and looking slightly afraid. (As he should be. Read on.)

Ned, as I've written before, had a eye for pretty girls. But he had been a good husband and father until
 it all seemed to roll out of control when he inadvertently fell in love with one of his models.

Maria, painted by Rossetti.

 Maria Zambaco was a divorced sculptor
 of Greek descent and was very much
unlike any other woman Ned had
 ever come across before.

She was basically a force of nature
who had some trouble taking "no" as an
answer when Ned finally told her he
wanted to end the affair and return
to his wife, Georgie.

Maria as Ned saw her, wild and vulnerable.


 The famous tale is that he and Maria went
   walking one foggy night by the canal
   and Maria had two bottles of laudanum
                  ready for a double suicide.

       When Ned said he wasn't prepared
  to die with her, she ran for the river
to throw herself in. Ned  tackled her to the ground
to stop her and they were wrestling
 with each other when the police showed up
and Maria's cousin appeared
(he may have been following the couple at a distance)
         to escort the frantic woman off.

                      Ned fainted.

However, the end of the affair led to some of the most amazing and controversial paintings of Burne-Jones' career-- and finally he was out of the shadow of his mentor, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and best friend William Morris. He would finally become a celebrated and successful artist in his own right, with his own individual, dreamy and very recognizable style.

Phyllis and Demophoon.
This large gouache painting caused a scandal.
When the Watercolour Society refused to show it,
Burne-Jones resigned from the Society.
The Depths of the Sea.
One of the many Burne-Jones paintings
that  feature (sometimes unintentionally)
treacherous women.

But there was a definite "femme fatale" theme that was showing up in Ned's art, alongside his constant androgynous angels and swooning maidens.
 Since the the Maria Zambaco affair, it seemed some sort of  amorous door had been opened for the formerly shy painter who became a  relentlessly platonic flirt. He wrote increasingly adoring letters to young female friends. Though he remained with his loyal wife Georgie (their relationship was obviously never the same and possibly why Georgie sought comfort in the company of her husband's best friend, William Morris, who was going through a similar experience), Ned acted like a knight in the throes of courtly love, knowing he would never have these women he poured out his passions to in letters but feeling compelled to write them all the same.

Ned pretty much fell in love on a daily basis.

It's my personal belief though that these "crushes" actually helped his art and gave him just the right amount of romantic enthusiasm he needed to create as much work as he did in later life. Let's just say that his crushes powered his passion at the easel.

Love Among the Ruins
The original gouache version of this was famously,
well, ruined when a museum worker tried to clean it,
 not realizing it wasn't done in oils.
        This is the more waterproof second version done in oils.
But as a big fan of Georgie, I am also very sorry for her as well. Ned relied on her as his manager: she handled all his money, his commissions, his guests, the press, etc. She created the ideal environment in which he could essentially live in his dream world and work.

(However, she and William will have their moment in an upcoming cartoon.)

Oh, and Ned Burne-Jones hated carrots. As recorded by his studio assistant, Thomas Rooke, Georgie was discussing dinner preparations with her husband and remarked, "Relations are strained between you and carrots, aren't they, dear?" To which Ned replied: "Carrots and I are not on speaking terms. When I see a carrot in the street I walk on the other side. Potatoes and I are on speaking terms merely, there's no friendship between us,"  (Burne-Jones Talking, Mary Lago, editor.)

               Clearly he'd never had baby carrots with ranch dressing. I think he'd change his mind.

Coming up next: A Pre-Raphaelite Supervillain!  And the conclusion of "Ned's Angels".


  1. Hi Raine. Ned's Angels are an even more brilliant idea than The Stünners, which is saying something. And I completely agree with you about the underlying art history. I think EB-J almost deliberately harnessed sexual frustration and unrequited love to be the powerhouse that drove his art, and being a bit scared of Maria (who was as mad as a bag of snakes) definitely got him going. Do you like Penelope Fitzgerald's EB-J biog? I love it. I'm reading Hermione Lee's biography of Fitzgerald (highly recommended) and it's got me re-reading all her stuff, which is even better than I remembered.

  2. "...as a big fan of Georgie's..." And I thought I was the only one! ��

    1. Georgie is awesome!:D Georgie Burne-Jones fans unite!