Sir Edward Burne-Jones' personal life — namely his love affairs with Georgiana McDonald (which Waters characterizes as "uncomplicated") and Maria Zambaco (which Waters deems "disastrous") — greatly influenced his depictions of women. His changing perceptions of women are rendered pictorially; during his relationship with McDonald, his paintings such as Venus and Blonde et Belle et Colorée depict female beauty as innocent and sweetly naive. Later on, as his relationship with Zambaco disintegrated, he moves into a darker, more cynical phase in which female beauty carries sinister undertones as seen in both versions of The Wheel of Fortune. In his later portrait paintings, Portrait of Margaret Burne-Jones and Portrait of Girl in a Green Dress, he infuses the sitter's appearance with these two forms of representation.
In the first painting, Portrait of Margaret Burne-Jones , he uses pale shades (traditional symbols of purity) of yellow and beige to depict his daughter as na•ve: the color tones create a sunny sense of harmony; her blunt bangs are a light shade of grey that is echoed in her frilly dress, and the yellow undertones of her dress, bangs and skin recall the cheerful lemon-colored background. Furthermore, her innocence is evoked physically. Her face looks directly at the viewer as though she has nothing to hide, and her full cheeks, bright eyes and slightly pouty expression convey a juvenile sense of optimism. Her childlike virtuousness provides a striking contrast to another depiction of a solitary female figure, Portrait of a Girl in a Green Dress . although the identity of the sitter is unknown, clearly the Girl in a Green Dress is older than Margaret and has presumably lost some of her innocence. An ominous dark green color palate dominates this painting; the girl is subsumed by the darkness thereby creating an atmosphere of imprisonment. The only highlighted elements are her face and her white-gloved hands. Her slack face, large, dark expressionless eyes and slumped posture make the sitter look tired and ill. Even her sumptuous dress serves to render the girl unwell, the dark green shade contrasts with the sallow paleness of the sitter's skin and the glumness of her expression. Moreover, the girl's face is only seen from the side; her face is hidden by the darkness of the background unlike Margaret Burne-Jones who confronts the viewer unabashedly.
1. The loss of innocence and the loss of love are two major themes in Pre-Raphaelite work. How are these themes representative in the comparison of these two works? Are these two themes necessarily intertwined?
2. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a close friend and mentor of Burne-Jones, also painted portraits of women. In his portrait of Lady Lilith he depicts a solitary female figure whose face is in profile; how does this compare to Portrait of a Girl in a Green Dress ?
3. Why did Burne-Jones choose to highlight the Girl in the Green dress's hands? 4. Both of these paintings are portraits. How does this change Burne-Jones' style and intentions?
Wood, Christopher. The Pre-Raphaelites. New York: Studio/Viking, 1981.
Last modified 25 October 2006