Saturday, November 17, 2012

Georgie's Birthday

I wanted William Morris and Georgie Burne-Jones to have a little fun at her husband Ned's expense in this cartoon. Topsy and Georgie were very close friends late in their lives and there was always that persistent rumor that they were much closer ...
Georgie Burne-Jones,
painted by her brother-in-law, Edward Poynter.
...however, despite the sadness in both their marriages, they would remain heroically loyal to their spouses. Still, despite his wandering eye, if there was a way to make Ned jealous it would be his wife and his best friend paying more attention to each other than to him.
William Morris
"Would you take the #%&!-ing picture already
 so I can get back to work?
And no, Morris isn't showing off-- he was surprisingly modest about all his exhausting accomplishments.
 I'm definitely guilty of giving Edward Burne-Jones more hair on top of his head than he probably actually had. (You're welcome, Ned. Anytime.) And William Morris called all his close friends "old chap", even the women. (Topsy was perhaps the closest thing to a feminist among the Pre-Raphaelites.)

Edward Burne-Jones
Does art and stuff.
Morris and Georgiana Burne-Jones grew close in the later years of their respective marriages, probably because of their similar sad marital situations. Jane Morris, Topsy's wife, was having an affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and became the muse who inspired Rossetti's last beautiful and mythic paintings. Ned had meanwhile fallen in love with his model, Greek sculptor Maria Zambaco, despite what had previously been a relatively happy marriage between he and Georgie.

 He was also in the habit of falling in love with every pretty face that came to his studio and this often resulted in a plethora of platonic love letters. Georgie carried on stoically managing the household and the business end of things (which included Ned's career), but she knew nothing would ever be the same again with their marriage.

This was when Georgie began to become her own woman with her own views on the world which differed greatly from her still very safely conservative husband. (See Sir Ned.) 
Thanks to her deepening friendship with her husband's best friend, she began to have distinct political views which included socialism, women's suffrage and anti-imperialism. Her nephew, the writer Rudyard Kipling, had to pacify a neighborhood angry at her anti-war banners. Yes, little Georgie became a force to reckoned with in her old age.

"What's the deal with all these vampires lately?
Wait. Let me just finish this chapter..."
When Georgie first met Topsy, she thought he hadn't taken much notice of her. She later learned that Morris had a habit of giving new people a quick, sweeping evaluation and then going about his business. What she learned later was the great admiration Morris had for her quiet strength, her intelligence and practicality...and especially her large grey eyes which were given to certain heroines of his poetry and novels.  Georgie was reknowned for her no-nonsense stare that seemed to see right through any pretense.

A Book of Verse
One of the best birthday presents in the
history of birthday presents ever...
As a birthday gift for Georgie, Morris had put together the beautiful A Book of Verse. No , it wasn't 400 hundred pages long, but Topsy did hand-letter it and drew the intricate, foliate borders on the last pages, as well as contributing coloring and sketches for the other illustrators who worked on it with him. And Ned himself contributed one illustration for the first poem, entitled "The Two Sides of the River" which depicts a man reaching his arms out to a woman on an opposite shore as if to say, "I'm sorry." 

But it's my belief that the poems in this book are some of the saddest and loneliest that William Morris ever wrote. And Morris would go on to illuminate more little books for Georgie for more of her birthdays, including the first version he created of  "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam."

               Very lucky lady.

Coming up next: Arthur Hughes Meets Millais.


  1. I think these are HYSTERICAL!!!! I shared them with the Pre-Raphaelite Society and some of my art history classes as well!

  2. WOW!! Thank you so much--! I'm very honored and flattered (and a little embarrassed by the silliness of my cartoons, LOL) You just made my week, possibly my year!! :D