study

Left: Evelyn de Morgan. Study for an Angel in Gloria in Excelcis

Right: Edward Burne-Jones. Sketch for Largesse and Richesse

Comparing Evelyn de Morgan's Study for an Angel in Gloria in Excelcis (1890) to the sketch Largesse and Richesse (1874) by Edward Burne-Jones, for the series The Garden of Idleness, obviates the artistic influence in subject and composition of her longtime friend and colleague. The presentation of drapery in both sketches hangs in a linear, column-like fashion and the female subjects wear historically informed dress. The woman on the left-hand side of Largesse and Richesse wears a medieval tunic and hat, and she holds the hand of a woman wearing a more classical dress composed of intense vertical folds. The classical figure creates a striking match to Nimue in Burne-Jones's The Beguiling of Merlin of the same year, 1874. To depict the angel in Study for an Angel de Morgan blends both of these techniques, using linear drapery folds with a few vertical lines in the upper breast area to depict the clothing of the woman playing a musical instrument. The pose of her angel is similar to the woman in Burne-Jones's The Mill of 1882 who stands off to the right hand side against the wall, also playing an elaborate instrument. The gradation of shading and light along the folds is remarkably similar in both sketches, the only noticeable difference being that de Morgan softens her lines and angles more than Burne-Jones.

Left: Edward Burne-Jones. The Death of Medusa

Right: Evelyn de Morgan. The Vision

Another striking comparison can be made between de Morgan's The Vision (1914) and Burne-Jones's The Death of Medusa. Both paintings draw on an imaginative capacity to depict incredible subjects. In The Vision two sets of wings linger behind the strange devil character (who has fire for hair) giving a sense of impending doom. The two women in the crowded foreground of the painting have Burne-Jonesesque faces, beautiful but not lifelike. And the sun hangs over the endless sea in the distance with only rocky shorelines giving a sense of place in an otherwise sparse dream space. In effect The Vision carries the same mood as The Death of Medusa, Burne-Jones's vision of Perseus flying away with Medusa's head while two sisters hover above the event with large wings that add a sense of flurry to the narrative.

Questions

1. To what extent is the composition in The Vision a total disaster? Can similar compositional errors be found in any of Burne-Jones's paintings?

2. Is there a narrative being depicted in The Vision? Or is it just a dream?

3. Looking at both comparisons, is there any visual evidence in these pictures that Burne-Jones did not influence Evelyn de Morgan?

4. Emma Sandys (1843-1877) was also a talented Pre-Raphaelite follower. Her Portrait of a Girl clearly shows the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and is aptly compared to his Helen of Troy (1863). Both paintings take the same subject matter -- a beautiful young girl shown from the shoulders up in a portrait style. Long flowing curls of hair, a symbol of sexuality, dominate the visual field. The plants surrounding the sleeping girl in Sandys's portrait blend with the hair creating a liminal space with no background and forcefully connect the girl with nature. Rossetti's Helen is more formally composed, showing her hands, jewelry and textured clothing. What is the effect of the girl's closed eyes in Portrait of a Girl, and comparatively, of the woman's open eyes in Helen of Troy? Is one more sensual and the other sexually provocative?

5. Consider rewording the opening sentence above to: "Emma Sandys (1843-1877) was also a talented female follower of the Pre-Raphaelites." Is the insertion of the word "female" important? Should it be used to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that she is female, or is it obvious from her first name and therefore superfluous? What is the purpose of distinguishing between male and female followers?


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Last modified 6 December 2004