Fairfax Murray (1849 - 1919)



February 15, 1995
New York, NY, US

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Description: ST. CECILIA watercolor with bodycolor on paper 64 1/4 x 22 3/4 in. (163.2 x 57.8 cm.) In the original frame, probably designed by Burne-Jones PROVENANCE The artist's first studio sale, Christie's, 16 July 1898 (first day), lot 56 (720gns to Gooden and Fox) Oliver Vernon Watney Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read With The Fine Art Society, London, 1974 Private Collection, New York EXHIBITED London, Royal Academy, Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Art: The Handley-Read Collection, 1972, no. D 132 London, The Fine Art Society, Drawings from the Handley-Read Collection, 1974, no. 20 Victorian Dreamers, exh. circulated in Japan by the Tokyo Shimbun, 1989, no. 29 LITERATURE Possibly the artist's autograph work-record (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), under 1881 Malcolm Bell, Sir Edward Burne-Jones: A Record and Review, 1894, p. 106 (stained-glass cartoon listed) Fortunee de Lisle, Burne-Jones, 1904, pp. 112, 196 (cartoon mentioned) A.C. Sewter, The Stained Glass of William Morris and his Circle, II, 1975, p. 146 This is a watercolor version of the figure of St. Cecilia which occupies the central light of a stained-glass window designed by Burne-Jones for the Cathedral at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1874. Situated at the east end of the north choir aisle (St. George's Chapel), the window was presented by the Cathedral organist, C.W. Corfe, and has an appropriately musical theme. St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, is seen between two angels in the lateral lights, each holding a musical instrument and a palm as a symbol of her martyrdom, while two further angel musicians appear in the tracery above, and scenes from the life of the Saint fill the three predella panels below (see A.C. Sewter, op.cit, I. 1974, pl. 497). The window was made by Morris & Co. (as the firm was re-named in 1875), and Morris himself was responsible for designing the two angels in the tracery. Otherwise all the figure subjects are by Burne-Jones. The Cathedral at Christ Church has no fewer than five major Burne-Jones windows. The earliest, the St. Frideswide window in the Latin Chapel, dates from 1859 and was made by James Powell & Sons, for whom Burne-Jones worked before Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was launched in 1861. The others, all by the Morris firm, are a window in the south have aisle showing Faith, Hope and Charity (c. 1870-71); the Vyner memorial window in the Lady Chapel (1872-3); the St. Cecilis window described above (1875); and the St. Catherine window in the south choir aisle (Regimental Chapel), erected in memory of Edith Liddell, the younger sister of Alice Liddell of Alice in Wonderland fame (1878). Watercolor versions exist of all three of the figures in the main lights in the St. Cecilia window, those of the angels in the lateral lights being (left) in an English private collection and (right) in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City (see The Pre-Raphaelites, exh. Herron Museum of Art, Indianapolis, and Gallery of Modern Art, New York, 1964, cat. no. 23, repr.) The watercolors graphically illustrate the close connection which often exists between Burne-Jones's paintings and decorative designs. Indeed it seems likely that they were worked up over the stained-glass cartoons themselves, a practice Burne-Jones had adopted since his earliest days as a designer of windows. No cartoons for these figures are known, although some record of the compositions must have existed in the Morris workshop since the figures, which were specially designed for the Christ Church window, were often re-used by the firm at later dates (see Sewter, op.cit., II, 1975, pp. 277 (Angels, Single, Full-Length, Large, g-h) and 284 (St. Cecilia,d). The cartoon which (we assume) served as the underpainting may not have been carried out by Burne-Jones. Worked in brown wash, it is a little hard and mechanical, suggesting that it might be by Charles Fairfax Murray, who had acted as Burne-Jones's assistant since 1866, as well as being the most accomplished glass painter in the employment of the Morris firm. (He had painted, among others, the previous window made by Morris for Christ Church, the Vyner window of 1872-3). Murrey is often credited with the production of cartoons in brown wash which do not seem quite characteristic of Burne-Jones in execution. The most notable example is the series of Angels of the Hierarchy designed for one of the south transept windows in the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1873 (Sewter, op.cit., I, 1974, pls. 414-23). Of these, A.C. Sewter has written: "The handling of these cartoons shows a crisper and more incisive touch than is usual in Burne-Jones's works, suggesting an executant accustomed to the strict economy of means required of a glass-painter; and I suspect that the whole series of cartoons may have been carried out by Fairfax Murray, presumably from small drawings by Burne-Jones' (op.cit., I, 1974, pp. 47-8). It should, however, be stressed that there is no documentary evidence for attributing the St. Cecilia cartoon to anyone other than Burne-Jones; it is purely a matter of style. The cartoons for the window are referred to in an entry in Burne-Jones's account book (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) dated August 1874: "Oxford Ch. Church. Cecily window #90". This, however, tells us nothing; the amount may have included a payment to Murray, but equally it may not. The entry for the Angelic Hierarchy cartoons for the Jesus College Chapel window, dated April 1873, is similarly noncommital. Nor is there anything untoward in studio intervention of this kind in the context of Burne-Jones's oeuvre. As another of his assistants, T.M. Rooke, recorded, "an early cherished idea of his was to get much done by means of a "school" of artists and assistants he should train" (Catalogue of the Permanent Collection of Paintings, Birmingham City Art Gallery, 1930, p. 31). In other words, Burne-Jones saw himself as the master of a busy workshop, based on the medieval and Renaissance model, with assistants playing an essential part in the production of his works. If Murray did have a hand in St. Cecilia, this would have been regarded by Burne-Jones as perfectly acceptable, conforming to the studio practice he had deliberately established to enable him to achieve a large output. It was the design that was important to him, not the individual touch of the executant. Whatever the precise status of the monochrome underpainting, there can be no doubt that Burne-Jones himself was responsible for the overpainting in colour. This is handled with great panache, the paint being applied with a wonderful elegance and freedom. It is seldom that he treats us to such a virtuoso performance on this scale. The overpainting may be a few years later than the cartoon. An entry in Burne-Jones's autograph work record (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) under 1881-"some figures in watercolor on bigger scale"-may refer to St. Cecilia and her two attendant Angels; and the treatment is not inconsistent with this date, especially the background imitating coloured marble, which does not appear in the stained glass. Burne-Jones became fascinated by marble in the 1880s, studying it at the monumental masons Farmer and Brindley in the Westminster Bridge Road. This was particularly in connection with his painting of Arthur in Avalon (Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico), designed in 1881, but marble appears in many of his later works. St. Cecilia remained in Burne-Jones's studio until his death in 1898, at some stage acquiring the handsome "Renaissance" frame, probably designed by the artist, which it still has. It was included in the studio sale which Christie's conducted a month after his death, and having passed through the collection of Oliver Vernon Watney, came into the possession of Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read in the late 1960s. These great collectors and pioneers of the Victorian revival hung it on the staircase of their house in Holland Park, west London, where it will be remembered by many of the younger generation whose enthusiasm for Victorian and Edwardian art they did so much to inspire.
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