Edward Burne-Jones / English, 1833-1898. SN 422, Oil on Canvas, 1870
From: The Pages
Burne-Jones was an English painter, illustrator and designer, born in Birmingham; he died
in London. He favored an aesthetic style which was suggestive rather than specific. He
summed up his own ideas on painting as follows: "I mean by a picture a beautiful
romantic dream, of something that never was, never will be - in a light better than any
that ever shown - in a land no-one can define or remember, only desire - and the forms
divinely beautiful." His early success was in stained glass, and he taught the
subject from 1859 to 1861.
He studied the nude and the antique during the late 1860s, and improved his draftsmanship
and use of watercolor and oils. He developed into a fine colorist, and his sense of line
The serpentine rhythms he developed while under the influence of Botticelli are
characteristic of Burne-Jones paintings. He was a leading figure in the second
Pre-Raphaelite movement, which was a mixture of romantic medievalism and the desire to
return to the art of the early Italian Renaissance before Raphael. His taste was rather
classical; his elongated shapes (influenced by Botticelli) and his paintings of ethereally
beautiful women were popular at the end of the century.
The scene depicts the coming destruction of a ship by the Sirens. The Sirens were
described in the Odyssey (12:54) as creatures with the heads of women, who attracted
sailors to their deaths with irresistible magic songs. In Homer's poem Odysseus was warned
about the Sirens by Circe, the magician. She directed him to fill the ears of his seamen
with wax so that they should not hear the Siren's song. He himself was to be bound to the
mast, and he gave orders to his crew not to release him until they had passed the Siren's
Burne-Jones began the painting in 1870, worked on it for the rest of his life, but never
finished it. Although inspired by the Greek story, he intended a more universal
.sirens of any time luring men to their destruction. The coloration is
somber, setting the mood of imminent death.
This work was part of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in 1998 entitled Edward
Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer. It was the first American retrospective devoted to
The Pre-Raphaelite movement, of which Burne-Jones was a leading figure, was formed in 1848
and ended in 1853, when John Millais, one of its members, was elected to the Royal
Academy. His acceptance was considered an abandonment of their ideal: to produce work in
the spirit which imbued Italian artists before Raphael's move to Rome. Some other members
of the Brotherhood were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, & John Ruskin.
Burne-Jones designed wallpaper for Wm Morris, whose wife Jane Morris became not only the
model but the mistress of Burne-Jones.