(Photo by Sotheby’s, London, 1934.)
Edward Burne-Jones, British (1833 – 1898). The Days of Creation. Designed 1870, painted 1875-6. Once completed, the panels were framed in a huge Renaissance revival frame designed by Burne-Jones specifically to hold all six Days with a Latin inscription that translates: “And he changeth the times and the seasons.” A later owner remounted them in individual frames and they are currently in the collection of the Fogg Museum, Harvard University. (“The Fourth Day” in the series was stolen from Harvard University in 1970.) The restoration (below) by a modern ceramic tile company (William Morris Tile) gives an impression of what the complete set of panels would have looked like. Media: watercolour, gouache, shell gold, and platinum paint on linen-covered panel prepared with zinc white ground.102.2 x 35.5 cms. The technique Burne-Jones is far removed from that of a typical watercolourist: the matte surface recalls fresco or tempera; the small brushstrokes and crosshatching also recall tempera; the fine weave of the linen support shows through like canvas through oil paint; and the many touches of gold and platinum throughout the panels suggest a decorator’s work rather than that of a fine artist.
In 1877, Edward Burne-Jones exhibited The Days of Creation panels in his comeback show at Grosvenor Gallery in London. Oscar Wilde went to the show, describing the work in detail in an article for Dublin University Magazine:
“The next picture is divided into six compartments, each representing a day in the Creation of the World, under the symbol of an angel holding a crystal globe, within which is shown the work of a day. In the first compartment stands the lonely angel of the First Day, and within the crystal ball Light is being separated from Darkness. In the fourth compartment are four angels, and the crystal glows like a heated opal, for within it the creation of the Sun, Moon, and Stars is passing; the number of the angels increases, and the colours grow more vivid till we reach the sixth compartment, which shines afar off like a rainbow. Within it are the six angels of the Creation, each holding its crystal ball; and within the crystal of the sixth angel one can see Adam’s strong brown limbs and hero form, and the pale, beautiful body of Eve. At the feet also of these six winged messengers of the Creator is sitting the angel of the Seventh Day, who on a harp of gold is singing the glories of that coming day which we have not yet seen. The faces of the angels are pale and oval-shaped, in their eyes is the light of Wisdom and Love, and their lips seem as if they would speak to us; and strength and beauty are in their wings. They stand with naked feet, some on shell-strewn sands whereon tide has never washed nor storm broken, others it seems on pools of water, others on strange flowers; and their hair is like the bright glory round a saint’s head.”
From Oscar Wilde, “The Grosvenor Gallery”, Dublin University Magazine (July 1877), pp. 15-16. Unidentified Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 5th January – 31st May 1877.
Photographs by Frederick Hollyer, British, 1837-1933. A set of six platinum prints.
The Della Robbia Pottery in Birkenhead produced some ceramic panels of the series 1893-1906. They are now in the north aisle chapel of Llandaff Cathedral. They were made by Harold Rathbone at his pottery workshops in Birkenhead to the original designs for stained glass by Burne-Jones and given to the Cathedral in 1960.
For a unique and original interpretation of the series by Phillip Medhurst go to: