SIR EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES BT ARA (1833-1898)
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848)
The Flower Book: XXVII. Black Archangel (England, 1905)
Lithograph heightened with gouache on paper
Description / Expertise
The Flower Book consists of thirty-eight watercolours, tiny roundels, each some six inches across. In his list of works Burne-Jones described them as 'a series of illustrations to the Names of Flowers'. He used traditional flower names as stepping-stones into his own imaginative world: as his wife put it, 'not a single flower itself appears'. She wrote of Burne-Jones’s aims in detail in her introduction to the 1905 facsimile of the book:
'At first he thought any lovely or romantic name would lend itself to his purpose, but soon found ... that comparatively few were of use. Such as had too obvious a meaning as for instance ODIN’S HELM or FAIR MAID OF FRANCE, he rejected because there was not any reserve of thought in them for imagination to work upon. A picture, he held, should be no faint echo of other men’s thoughts, but 'a voice concurrent or prophetical'. It was easy enough, he said, merely to illustrate, but he wanted to add to the meaning of words or to wring their secret from them'.
Because these watercolours were made for his own private pleasure they represent the quintessence of his imaginative vision. Some are re-workings of subjects he had treated in easel paintings, while others, like the present watercolours, are entirely original.
Burne-Jones began the series in 1882 as 'rest from more laborious work' and his wife described them as 'the most soothing piece of work that he ever did'. He continued to produce designs until the end of his life and the facsimile contains a long list of names, which he collected to inspire further images. Many were drawn at Rottingdean, his summer home. He was supposed to rest there, but as he wrote in 1887: 'At first I tried to do nothing, but cannot acquire the taste; so after an uncomfortable two days I began upon my flower-book'. The small watercolours were easily transported to and from Rottingdean.