Georgiana Burne-Jones

Pre-Raphaelite

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Muse to Maker: Georgiana Burne-Jones - Pre-Raphaelite

Narrator of Red House

Louisa Macdonald, Mrs Alfred Baldwin (1845-1925), Georgiana MacDonald, Lady Burne-Jones (1840-1920), Alice Macdonald, Mrs John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1910) and Agnes Macdonald, Lady Poynter (1843-1906)

Born in Birmingham in 1840, Georgie was the second eldest of the diverse and cosmopolitan Macdonald Sisters: Alice, Georgiana, Agnes and Louisa. Georgie studied illustration; her ambition was always to become a wood engraver. The MacDonald sisters were part of the literary “Birmingham Set”, which morphed into the “Pembroke Set” when many of its members moved on to Pembroke College, Oxford. 

" I thought it quite natural that in the middle of the morning I should ask our only maid to stand for me that I might try to draw her."
- Georgiana Burne-Jones

Artist

Georgie attended the School of Design in South Kensington. Sadly few examples of her work remain today although her talent was encouraged and applauded by Ford Maddox Brown. Georgiana as a frequent visitor to Red House, worked for Morris and Co. in the early years of the company, painting tiles. Georgie and Lizzie Siddal began a project together to write and illustrate a book of fairy tales, which was sadly never completed. She speaks emotionally of her decision to leave the company and lay aside her art to be a full time mother.

Confidante

Georgie shared incredibly close relationships with some of the most notable personalities of the age. She viewed her friendship with novelist George Eliot as so important that she was irreparably hurt when Eliot married without asking her advice in 1880.

She was at the very centre of the Red House circle, staying with the Morris’ Friday to Monday being party to each intricate detail of communal life there.

John Ruskin was so fond of Georgie that on hearing of the premature arrival and loss of her second child in 1865 he had the road outside their home covered in soft bark to prevent the noise of passing carriages disturbing her rest.

She was the favourite aunt of a young Rudyard Kipling but Georgie’s closest and longest standing friend was William Morris. Norman Kelvin stated that: “She was the woman to whom he addressed himself most openly and fully on all occasions,with whom he shared his interests and concerns, and not least his political ones. She was the woman, that is, whom he trusted as a friend before all others.”

Political activist

A supporter of the Socialist League she became involved in arts education for the working classes by being the only woman on the committee of the South London Fine Arts Academy. Georgiana and her socialist companion and confidante William Morris did not look kindly on the baronetcy of Edward Burne- Jones which was to make Georgie a lady in 1894.

When the Boer war broke out Georgie hung a banner outside her home In Rottingdean, Sussex proclaiming “We have killed and also taken possession”.

Georgie had a seat on the local council for Rottingdean. Her politics remained radical, supporting Socialism, Women’s rights, opposing war and making provisions for community nurses “she is rousing the village, she is marching about, she is going like a flame”.

Biographer

Georgie’s work on the biographies of her husband Edward Burne-Jones and great friend William Morris, remain the most valuable historical source we possess. The rich detail contained in The Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, regarding the time the group spent at Red House, make her the narrator of those crucial five years of design history.

Georgiana died in February 1920 and is buried in St Margaret’s churchyard Rottingdean where she was councillor.