Edward Burne-Jones: The Earthly Paradise at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgar

Since 1971, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart has been in the possession of a chief work of Pre-Raphaelite painting: Perseus , a cycle consisting of eight paintings and studies by Edward Burne-Jones. This is the most important Edward Burne-Jones collection in Germany is to be found here in the Staatsgalerie: in addition to the Perseus Cycle , the museum also holds nine of the master’s drawings in its Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. These holdings serve as the point of departure for the first monographic exhibition on Burne-Jones to be presented in Germany, scheduled to open on 24 October 2009, and will continue until 7 Februay, 2010 at The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

In addition to the Perseus series, the show will also focus on Burne-Jones’s other major narrative cycles, for example his large-scale Briar Rose works with their references to Art Nouveau ornamentation, or the tapestries devoted to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table . Myths, legends and sagas come to life in the works of the great Victorian painter, which usher the beholder into a silent world fall of beauty and harmony, but also informed by undercurrents of terror and danger. The exhibition will moreover encompass a number of other important pictorial narratives to be presented to the German public for the first time. The large-scale cycle on Cupid and Psyche, for example, executed in collaboration with Walter Crane, once again interprets antiquity as envisioned by William Morris.

The show is title alludes to one of the most important literary sources from which Burne Jones drew the inspiration for his narrative cycles: William Morris is best-selling Earthly Paradise , the first edition of which appeared in 1868. At the same time, it also characterizes one of the painter’s primary conceptual concerns, for his entire oeuvre can be understood as an idealistic alternative to the prosaic everyday life of the Late Victorian period shaped, as it was, by the impact of the industrial revolution. The combination of classical material with medieval narrative forms comes very close to Burne-Jones is personal conception of an ideal age, i.e. of just such an ” earthly paradise” . In his art, he also interwove inspirations from the Early and High Renaissance with set-pieces from visions of the Middle Ages. He bathed the fascinating world of classical antiquity so often characterized by drastic eroticism, tragedy and brutality in the mild light of a solemn age shaped by Christian ideals. In his painted cycles, the one-time Oxford theology student Burne-Jones consistently depicted the human being on a kind of pilgrimage, the various stages of which already allude to the sublimation awaiting the traveller at the end of his road.

The spacious new exhibition areas on the ground floor of the museum provide us with a means of introducing Burne-Jones as a designer of interiors. Hence it is possible for us to show that the specific atmosphere he created with his tapestries and paintings many of which are monumental in scale was just as important an artistic aim for him as the content of the pictorial narrative. The visitor is accordingly to be given the opportunity to experience a number of different spatial settings. In addition to the artworks, the interiors will also comprise selected pieces of furniture and arts-and-crafts objects as well as stained-glass windows, book illustrations and sculptural works. The idea of a living environment shaped by art later further developed in Stuttgart in the work of Oskar Schlemmer and the interior designs of the Weissenhof Estate is to be placed in the limelight by this show as a farsighted element in the art of Edward Burne-Jones.

Under the patronage of the British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Michael Arthur the exhibition will be on view at the Kunstmuseum Bern from 19 March to 25 July, 2009.

Exhibition Notes : Awakened with a Kiss: Edward Burne-Jones’s Fairytale Pictures

In a show entitled “Edward Burne-Jones: The Earthly Paradise”, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart will present the first monographic exhibition to be devoted to this great Victorian painter in Germany. One of the leading Pre-Raphaelites and an artist already celebrated in Great Britain during his lifetime, Burne- Jones is little known to the German public. In his monumental narrative cycles encompassing many works never before shown in Germany he envisioned myths, legends and sagas which play an important role in the cultural history of Europe and address the viewer directly. In addition to the Perseus series, a masterpiece of Pre-Raphaelite painting which has been in the Staatsgalerie’s collection since 1971, the show will comprise outstanding loans from museums of many countries.

The complete tapestry series of the Holy Grail from the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery produced by Morris & Company after designs by Burne-Jones will be on view. Princess Sabra Drawing the Lot from Hannover College in Indiana, visualizing an episode from the legend of Saint George, and Sleeping Beauty from the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, will be seen alongside the Heart of the Rose carpet and the large-scale stained-glass window The Good Shepherd from the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe. The window, which has not been shown for decades, consists of fifteen individual parts and will be installed in a light box constructed especially for this occasion. One of Edward Burne-Jones’s extremely rare reliefs, depicting Perseus and the Graiae, will here be presented in public for the first time.

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