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Burne-Jones, Edward Coley (English, b.1833, d.1898), Artist
Spes or Hope
1871
Watercolour, bodycolour and gold on paper
1790 x 625 mm sight size
2025 x 880 x 60 mm frame size
1-1934
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Given 1934 by the National Art Collections Fund, London.
In 1877 the Grosvenor Gallery’s opening exhibition created a sensation in the London art world. Its star was Edward Burne-Jones and Hope was one of his eight offerings. Henry James saluted his ‘art of culture, of reflection, of intellectual luxury, of aesthetic refinement’. The young Oscar Wilde concurred, singling out Hope thus: ‘in so many of Burne-Jones’ pictures we have merely the pagan worship of beauty: but in this one I seem to see more humanity and sympathy than all the others’.
The painting is based on a cartoon for a panel of a three-light stained-glass window, depicting the figures of Faith, Hope and Charity, at Christ Church, Oxford (1871). The emphatically vertical format, almost three times as high as it is wide, certainly suggests a lancet window. The figure radiates the ethereal beauty and strange sexlessness typical of Burne-Jones’ females. Standing in her shallow prison cell, she reaches up to a mysterious blue veil or cloud, possibly symbolising divine comfort. The periwinkles at her feet traditionally denote those who are condemned to death, while the apple blossom that she holds is probably more banal: it was a common Aesthetic movement accessory, there to look beautiful.
The painting reflects Burne-Jones’ admiration of Renaissance masters like Mantegna and Botticelli, yet the extravagant drapery swirls anticipate Art Nouveau sinuosity. Hope clearly meant much to the artist, and in a way that he never originally envisaged; in 1897, assisted by Thomas Rooke, he painted a second, near-identical version in oils (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) while grieving for the recently deceased William Morris. A year later Burne-Jones himself was dead.

not on view

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