Edward Burne-Jones: Beauty and Symbolism in his Portrait of Baronne Madeleine Deslandes


  • Emily Catherine Wubben


art, history


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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Edward Burne-Jones, Baronne Madeleine Deslandes, 1895–96. Oil on canvas, 115.5 x 58.2 cm. NGV. Image: Courtesy of NGV.






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