Edward Burne-Jones: Beauty and Symbolism in his Portrait of Baronne Madeleine Deslandes
In 2018-19, Tate Britain held a comprehensive retrospective exhibition of over 150 works by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), one of the most influential British artists of the late nineteenth century.1 This exhibition was the first solo show of Burne-Jones’s work at Tate since 1933.2 The portrait of Baronne Madeleine Deslandes (1895-96) (Fig. 1), held in the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) , Melbourne, was the only work drawn from an Australian public collection.3 This article examines Burne-Jones’s painting, Baronne Madeleine Deslandes, and will argue it is a significant example of the artist’s distinctive approach to portraiture, female beauty, and the use of symbolic accessories. Prefaced by a description of the portrait, the context of its creation and its reception in 1896, this article will delve into the symbolic meaning of key motifs in the painting—the crystal globe and laurel leaves—through comparison with other works in Burne-Jones’s oeuvre. Whilst acknowledging similarities in his use of these accessories across different works, the peculiarities of Burne-Jones’s use in each example will be explored. It will be argued that Burne-Jones created a mystical world in which certain objects did not simply add to a straightforward narrative, but rather served to evoke a mood or concept.
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