Sir Edward Burne-Jones: The Golden Stairs



Alternative titles for this painting were 'The King's Wedding' and 'Music on the Stairs'. This painting can be termed symbolist in the sense that it has no specific subject, but creates a mood purely by its colour and composition. Many of the girls are holding musical instruments, emphasizing the aesthetic credo of combining art and music. F.G. Stephens said that the girls 'troop past like spirits in an enchanted dream, each moving gracefully, freely, and in unison with her neighbours... What is the place they have left, why they pass before us thus, whither they go, who they are, there is nothing to tell'.
(Athenaeum, 1880)

Edward Coley Burne-Jones was born at 11 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham, on August 28 1833. Within days his mother, Elizabeth, died and the child was raised by his father, also Edward, a gilder and frame maker. While birth certificates were not introduced until three years later, a record of his baptism at St Philip's Church (now Birmingham Cathedral) on 1 January 1834 is stored in the Birmingham Archives and Heritage Service. He later designed the magnificent stained glass windows for St Philip's. Burne-Jones spent the first 20 years of his life in Birmingham, then a grimy industrial town. His earliest memories are said to have been of the city's celebrations for Queen Victoria's coronation.

At the age of 11, the young Edward Burne-Jones was admitted to King Edward VI School, then situated in New Street. Demolished in 1936, the building was designed by Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, the architects responsible for the Houses of Parliament.

According to King Edward's School's archives, Burne-Jones was regularly at the top of his class and won many prizes, particularly for mathematics. He also showed a talent for drawing - including caricatures of his teachers. Some years ago, the school's archivists discovered a series of small portraits and caricatures of masters and pupils which many believe to be the work of the young Burne-Jones, although experts have failed to reach a firm conclusion. King Edward's School chapel; moved from the New Street school where it was the Upper Corridor.

In 1853, he went up to Exeter College, Oxford, and it was here he met William Morris. At that time, both men intended to go into the Church but, after a tour of northern France in 1855, Burne-Jones decided to become a painter and Morris to train as an architect. Both left Oxford without graduating. From November 1856 he and Morris shared rooms in London at 17 Red Lion Square, which previously had been occupied by Rossetti and Walter Deverell. Known to early friends simply as Jones, he adopted the name of Burne-Jones at about this time.

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