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Thursday, 3 January 2013

On artistry

Tuesday, January 3rd., London.

At the Burne-Jones exhibition; I was much impressed by the whole thing, and especially by the superb richness and spirituality of the early "Annunciation" (two panels) and the "Adoration of the Magi", all three pictures being dated 1861. In some ways these surpass, or at least equal, any subsequent work.

The major memorial exhibition of Burne-Jones’s work was held at the New Gallery in the winter of 1898 to 1899.

The photographs reproduced shows some of Burne-Jones’s Stanmore Hall tapestries, drawings for King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid as well as the   huge unfinished canvas of the Car of Love.

They also provides a visual record of the interior of the New Gallery, which from 1888 was Burne-Jones’s preferred gallery and which offered a sympathetic venue to decorative and symbolic painting until its closure in 1909.

The managers of the Gallery were Charles Halle and Joseph Comyns Carr who had both resigned from the Grosvenor Gallery when changes in its management made it less sympathetic to artists. The New Gallery building was converted from a livery stable at the south end of Regent Street.

The sight of Burne-Jones's aloofness, of his continual preoccupation with the spiritual, to the ignoring of everyday facts, served to complete in me a modification of view which has been proceeding now for a year or two. The day of my enthusiasm for 'realism', for 'naturalism', has passed. I can perceive that a modern work of fiction dealing with modern life may ignore realism and yet be great. To find beauty, which is always hidden; that is the aim. If beauty is found then superficial facts are of small importance. But they are of some importance. And although I concede that in the past I have attached too high a value to realism, nevertheless I see no reason why it should be dispensed with. My desire is to depict the deeper beauty while abiding by the envelope of facts. At the worst the facts should not be ignored. They might, for the sake of more clearly disclosing the beauty, suffer a certain distortion - I can't think of a better word. In deed they cannot be ignored in the future. The achievements of the finest French writers, with Turgenev and Tolstoy, have set a standard for all coming masters of fiction.
What the artist has to grasp is that there is no such thing as ugliness in the world. This I believe to be true but perhaps the saying would sound less difficult in another form: All ugliness has an aspect of beauty. The business of the artist is to find that aspect.

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