A quick trip to London yesterday to catch the last week of the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at Tate Britain. (It finishes on 24th – so go now!) Beyond the best-known paintings such as The Golden Stairs and Laus Veneris (above), there was much to take in and admire in the seven rooms of paintings. Here’s a not very serious taster of some of my quirky favourites:
The Wine of Circe (1900, right). I was standing by this painting wondering about what the black panthers symbolised, when a chap behind nudged his companion and said:
“I thought that was the Thames Barrier in the background for a moment!”
Then he guffawed at his own silliness. He was referring to Odysseus’s ships.
Apparently, the black panthers are victims of previous spells. Rather them than the swine Odysseus’s men would be turned into!
The next painting to catch my eye was The Depths of the Sea (1887, left). It is at once alluring and mysterious.
It reminded me of the film The Shape of Water but reversed of course. However, a less romantic view makes the mermaid more like the fierce ones in Harry Potter.
She has a Mona Lisa smile on her face, and a six pack! It’s hard to tell whether her man is a victim or willing participant who will not die, (if Gillyweed was available in Pre-Raphaelite times).
In the room of portraits, I was drawn to this one: Vespertina Quies (1893, right).
This is a portrait of Bessie Keane, one of his favourite later models, and was deliberately posed Mona Lisa style.
One of my favourite rooms was reserved for a series of paintings based on The Sleeping Beauty – The Briar Rose Series. This series of four huge canvases painted between 1885 and 1890, together with ten separate linking panels of greenery, blossom and more thorns, depicts a knight finding everyone asleep – first the soldiers in The Briar Wood, then the King in The Council Chamber, then the weavers at their looms in The Garden Court and finally Sleeping Beauty in The Rose Bower. They’re all pictured at the same moment.
I managed to get pictures of 1 and 3 without people in the way. Of course, there were only postcards in the shop of 1 and 2. The full series lives at Buscot Park near Faringdon in Oxfordshire, where I hope they’ll return soon – as it’s near me, I’d love to go and see them again with fewer people in the way. (Buscot Park also has a handful of other Pre-Raphaelite paintings and many others, open April-Sept (National Trust)).
I loved this series, and the thorns and blossom all around reminded me of Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Tellers Master Stroke from 1755, which hangs in the big room at the Tate, where we popped afterwards. Sadly, one of our favourites, The Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse, and his Ophelia were both out on loan to elsewhere. Still I have seen these two many times before. Unlike the time I went on holiday to Chicago with seeing Grant Wood’s American Gothic joint top of my list (along with Hopper’s Nighthawks which was there) – the Wood was out on loan, but I did get to see it a couple of years ago when it came to London (here).