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The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination Hardcover – February 29, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


This magnificent and deeply felt biography brings with it a sense of completion, not least in its account of one of the greatest and most fruitful Victorian friendships, [between William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones]. (Rosemary Hill, The Guardian)

Fiona MacCarthy writes so easily that even a doorstep biography of this size is a true pleasure to read, unfolding events at an enjoyable pace and skillfully structured to avoid the drag of one-thing-after-another... a triumph of biographical art. (Jan Marsh, The Independent)

The signal achievement of Fiona MacCarthy's captivating biography The Last Pre-Raphaelite is to make a case for Edward Burne-Jones, most regressive and dreamy of all Victorian artists, as a painter with significance for modernity as well as for his own times. (Jackie Wullschlager, The Financial Times)

[W]ith deft assuredness, MacCarthy takes on the naysayers, making a good case for 'the queer silence of [Burne-Jones's] work, its suspended animation', its cryptic lushness and beckoning sense of immobile potential. Burne-Jones was, she writes, the 'licensed escapist' of the Victorian age, and in this accomplished biography she allows the Houdini of the canvas to take centre stage once more. (Judith Flanders, The Telegraph)

Wonderful...This is a perfect coming together of biographer and subject. (Michael Holroyd The Guardian 2011-11-26)

The best real biography I read this year was Fiona MacCarthy's Edward Burne-Jones: The Last Pre-Raphaelite, a masterpiece of control. (James Fergusson Times Literary Supplement 2011-12-02)

A narrative feat which gives a detailed account of the Victorian immersion in its great lake of sentiment, mystic feelings and good cheer, and in the period waters of duality. (Karl Miller Times Literary Supplement 2011-12-02)

Aimed at the general reader, [McCarthy's] thoroughly researched biography changes our perception of the man and his art by exploring in depth aspects of his life that an art historian might only consider in passing. In recognizing the undertow of melancholy and sexual frustration embedded in work of hypnotic visual power, she articulates what the illustrator George du Maurier called the "Burne-Jonesiness of Burne-Jones." (Richard Dorment New York Review of Books 2012-02-23)

[An] impressive biography of Burne-Jones...MacCarthy paints a lively portrait of Burne-Jones's circle, including the dark sides...Even Burne-Jones's detractors will find that The Last Pre-Raphaelite skillfully probes the fascinating recesses of the Victorian mind and that MacCarthy achieves her goal of getting Burne-Jones out from under [William] Morris's shadow. (Henrik Bering Wall Street Journal 2012-02-11)

MacCarthy's The Last Pre-Raphaelite is one of those books one can happily live in for a week. (Michael Dirda Washington Post 2012-02-22)

[An] acute biography...MacCarthy gives us a full, fair, and splendidly rich portrait of Burne-Jones the artist and man. (Matthew Price Boston Globe 2012-02-19)

This detailed, engaging, and thoroughly researched biography is the most recent work on the English Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. Versed in the artistic culture of Victorian England, respected biographer MacCarthy covers Burne-Jones's life from his early days in Oxford to his ascent as a respected artist. She explores his relationships with contemporaries such as fellow Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti and especially Arts and Crafts designer William Morris--Burne-Jones collaborated with Morris's interior design firm, Morris & Company, on numerous stained glass windows, tapestries, and illustrations for books (also published by Morris's Kelmscott Press). This work examines Burne-Jones's personal correspondence with these artists as well as with the women in his life: e.g., his wife, Georgie MacDonald; his mistress, the exotic Mary Zambaco; and other love interests, models, and inspirations for paintings and other artwork...A highly recommended biography for anyone interested in the art and culture of Victorian England. (Sandra Rothenberg Library Journal 2012-03-01)

[MacCarthy] explores Burne-Jones's work in relation to the history of his life and friendships… This is an insightful biography by an author who understands the art history but is equally adept at explaining the motivations of the late Victorians. (P. A. Stirton Choice 2012-08-01)

In her superb new biography, Fiona McCarthy, the author of the definitive life of William Morris, captures the richness of the artist and his epoch with enviable verve. No one interested in the English 19th century should pass it up...McCarthy presents [Burne-Jones] with such marvelous fidelity by capturing his abounding charm, his chivalric kindness, his wonderful sense of the ridiculous, and his horror of anyone and everything that smacked of the bumptious...[A] wonderfully unputdownable biography. (Edward Short Books & Culture 2012-11-01)

About the Author

Fiona MacCarthy is one of Britain’s most acclaimed biographers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and the author of numerous books, including William Morris: A Life for Our Time.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (February 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674065794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674065796
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1.8 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By A. D. Smith on February 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
When it was announced that one of UK's greatest writers of biography, Fiona MacCarthy, was preparing a biography of Edward Burne-Jones there were many who waited eagerly for its publication - the book, which took 6 years to write, does not disappoint. Indeed, it is probably one of the very best biographies in our time of an artist, of the same insightful quality as the author's own prize-winning biography of William Morris William Morris. It is fitting that it is Fiona MacCarthy who now tells us about the other side of a friendship, between Morris and Burne-Jones, which began when they met as students in Oxford. It is no exaggeration to say that this friendship completely changed the face of English art and design. Although she asserts early in the book that Burne-Jones was the greater artist while Morris was `unarguably the greater man', by the time that you finish this book you realise that this is only a relative judgement because Burne-Jones was also a great man. He was much loved and admired: Kipling said `He was more to me than any man here... The man was a God to me.'; Henry James said `He was a wonderfully nice creature'; and the American poet Emma Lazarus considered him `so gentle, so kind and earnest and so full of poetry and imagination that he shines out of all the people I have seen, with a sort of glamour of his own.'
But Burne-Jones was a very private man and a challenge to a biographer. Luckily, his devoted wife Georgiana wrote a wonderful, sensitive and loyal account of him soon after he died
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The very best biographies recreate not just the life of their prime subjects but also that of their worlds. Fiona MacCarthy's fine new biography of Sir Edward Burne-Jones relates the story of his life in impressive detail as well as beautifully depicting the artistic and social milieu in which he moved. And what a glorious milieu it was: Pre-Raphaelitism, Symbolism, and Aestheticism all have their claims to Burne-Jones, but he can no more be defined by a single school than could any of his friends and associates throughout his rich life: Swinburne, Ruskin, Wilde, Whistler, Beardsley, Morris, to name only a few. It was a magnificent age in which to live, and in many ways Burne-Jones was the epitome of the best it had to offer in his appreciation for dreamy beauty in all its manifestations.

Burne Jones was born plain Edward Jones in the industrial city of Birmingham. Never receiving much formal art training, he exhibited his great artistic ability from an early age. Falling under the spell of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the other Pre-Raphaelites, he began painting in and adding to their style, encouraged by several long trips to Italy and France. He fell in love with and eventually married a lovely girl several years his junior, Georgiana Macdonald, whose large family made him brother in law to the painter Edward Poynter and eventually uncle to Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin. Fortunately Georgie was patient and long suffering, for she had to share her husband with a number of women in semi-platonic relationships. Most of these women were part of the Souls, making them part of the larger artistic world. Burne-Jones' fame increased throughout most of his working life, though by the time of his death in 1898 he had fallen a little out of artistic fashion.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This biography of the too oft neglected artist, Edward Burne-Jones offers insight into both the creative processes and life motivations of this culturally important figure. MacCarthy manages to combine a close examination of Burne-Jones' work with a sprightly account of his eventful life. Burne-Jones' contributions to the Arts and Crafts movement through his designs for stained glass and interior furnishings is a revelation for anyone like me who knows him only through his paintings. Several rare comtemporary photographs add to MacCarthy's precise and helpful commentary about the art and the artist.
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