There was a good turnout for this lecture by Dr Mark Stocker, retired art historian and former curator at Te Papa.

The British artist Edward Burne-Jones is closely associated with the later phase of the Pre Raphaelite movement. By 1870 he was an established artist and a member of the Old Water Colour Society. Two events were to make the year a difficult one for him both personally and professionally: – he finally terminated his tempestuous affair with the artist and model Maria Zambaco, and also ended his association with the Society, incensed at their refusal to support him when Victorian backlash erupted at Maria’s nudity depicted in his painting Phyllis & Demophoon.

In 1871 it was a rather fragile Burne- Jones, therefore, who took himself off to Italy for three weeks. It was his third visit there. It was certainly hectic – visits to Turin, Genoa, La Spezia, Pisa, Florence, Orvieto, Rome, Assisi, Perugia and more. The octavo sketchbook he took with him (now owned by Te Papa) many several pages of pencil sketches – quick executions mostly. He sketched architecture and landscape. Steep steps and curtains and drapery also feature plus many studies of olive trees. There are ‘pithy’ comments on the works of art he saw and the places and people he encountered: St Peter’s was ‘hideous’ but the Sistine Chapel ‘glorious’.

The contents of the sketchbook have been, in Dr Stocker’s view, ‘greatly underrated in its impact on the major paintings that followed’. To illustrate this point we traced Burne-Jones’ journey, with Dr Stocker as our guide and his erudite commentary. On the large screen at Soundings Theatre we were able to see clearly the link between sketches from Burne- Jones’ sketchbook and the paintings that inspired him together with artwork he would produce. Some of his most admired work: The Wheel of Fortune, The Golden Stairs and The Beguiling of Merlin are good examples.

He was to leave Italy completely rejuvenated: ‘this short three weeks in that seventh heaven of a place has made me live again’. His sketches enabled him to produce the incredible amount of work of the following years -definitely his best work.

The sketchbook was displayed on stage. We were invited to take a closer look at the end of the lecture. A well-presented lecture from an experienced communicator.

Dorothy Corry
Member