Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Burne-Jones' Fat Ladies

I found a reference that discusses Burne-Jones' Fat Lady drawings, and also provides a fascinating theory as to why Burne-Jones drew such portly caricatures of Morris.
"Barbed or not, the caricatures of Morris are one of the many expressions of what can only be described as Burne-Jones's obsession with obesity. By far the best known of these drawings are the fat ladies', many dressed in their evening finery, large bustle on large bottom, others caught in a strong wind or some other revealing situation. Graham Robertson recalled a projected series of imaginary Portraits of Prominent Women' which was suppressed by the home authorities after the appearance of the first batch. The prominences were so unlooked-for and arresting.'
It is said that Burne-Jones's chief model for these unflattering likenesses was Blanche, Lady Lindsay, wife of Sir Coutts Lindsay who owned the Grosvenor Gallery, but there were other contributory sources. Hefty lady Wagnerian singers held a ghastly fascination for him, and he was riveted by Emma Frank, the American Tattooed Lady, visiting the Westminster Aquarium when she was exhibited there in 1894 to gaze in wonder at the reproduction of Leonardo's Last Supper emblazoned on her ample back, and the medley of Stars and Stripes, Union Jacks and other incongruous images elsewhere on her anatomy" (pp. 12-13).

"[Burne-Jones] was frightened by Morris's growing stoutness. It was this fear, only just disguised as a joke, which combined with even deeper ones to produce Burne-Jones's fantasies of Fat Ladies (or Prominent Women). Both Georgie and Frances Horner strongly disapproved of these, yet he continued to do them for nearly twenty years. There are pig-like Fat Ladies in bed, in the Turkish baths, chased naked by a swarm of bees, bending over his easel and stifling him, invading the beach at Rottingdean. The horror of fatness was obsessional " (Penelope Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones, p. 189).


Margaret said...

I've heard a lot about Burne-Jones being afraid of fatness. Interesting, don't you think? Especially given the fact that he was attracted to near-adolescent girls. Hmmm. Anyway, the pictures of Morris ARE funny.

Grace said...

I think it's interesting the way he draws himself so overly thin, and Morris so overly portly.