Art If there’s at least one reason to visit The Drawings of Edward Burne-Jones: A Pre-Raphaelite Master, it’s for the rare opportunity to stand toe to frame with arguably one of the artist’s greatest works, Sponsa de Libano (the Bride of Lebanon) (1891) which in these small exhibition spaces stands floor to ceiling, and if you’re close enough your entire field of vision. Although such paintings are rarely inaccessible in other locations both in the gallery and elsewhere, usually these taller canvases are displayed off the ground, further up the wall as they are in the main picture room at the Lady Lever.
Only here can see the heft of his technique, the banding of colour, of gouache and temper, to create other pigments and how their integration when looked at from further away creates the stunning detail which is the hallmark of pre-Raphs in general. Even having seen at the work many times before, only now do I notice the design of the Bride’s sandals and the way she almost hovers above the ground and just how much of an inspiration Botticelli was to Burne-Jones. The painting is almost a chaster, vertical re-imagining of the Birth of Venus, especially noticeable in the positioning of the virgin’s face.
The rest of the exhibition is fine in that way that exhibitions of drawings on paper both complete in and of themselves and preparatory tend to be, with the vague suspicion that artists and art students will gain more from seeing the technique revealed more than this general visitor. As with most other members of the school, his style is exceedingly recognisable partly because he kept returning to the same models time and again so that there’s almost a “Burne-Jones” face. That means that when he comes to create a figure of Christ at The Last Judgment for the east window of St Margaret's Church in Rottingdean, Sussex, we’re not quite sure just how androgynous he’s supposed to be, the facial expression almost exactly like Sponsa de Libano.
The Drawings of Edward Burne-Jones: A Pre-Raphaelite Master continues until 12 January 2014. Free entry.