Pan and Psyche

BURNE-JONES Edward Coley (1887.)


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Mezzotint print by Charles William Campbell after Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and signed by the artist in lower-left corner. 29x36cm. Single sheet, mounted and attractively framed in brown wood with gilt border. Fine. London, Robert Dunthorne.



Engraved after Burne-Jones' painting Pan and Psyche, completed between 1872-4, now in the Harvard Art Museum, and based on a scene in William Morris's The Earthly Paradise. Psyche, following her rejection by Cupid, attempts suicide, and is saved and comforted by Pan, the god of nature:

And with that word she leapt into the stream,

But the kind river even yet did deem

That she should live, and, with all gentle care,

Cast her ashore within a meadow fair.

Upon the other side, where Shepherd Pan

Sat looking down upon the water wan,

Goat-legged and merry, who called out,

"Fair maid,Why goest thou hurrying to the feeble shade 

Whence none return? Well do I know thy pain,

For I am old, and have not lived in vain;

Thou wilt forget all that within a while,

And on some other happy youth wilt smile;

And sure he must be dull indeed if he

Forget not all things in his ecstasy

At sight of such a wonder made for him,

That in that clinging gown makes mine eyes swim,

Old as I am: but to the god of Love

Pray now, sweet child, for all things can he move.

The subtle tonality of this mezzotint is fully sympathetic to the dreamy aestheticism of Burne-Jones' paintings, and provides an interesting counter to the Kelmscott manner, in the development of which this image plays an important role. Burne-Jones' original design dates back to the early 1860's when he and William Morris, inspired by early editions of Chaucer and Boccaccio, first contemplated the idea of designing and printing their own books. Together they set upon a project to combine Morris' narrative poetry and Burne-Jones' art; the book was to be The Earthly Paradise and would contain two or three hundred woodcuts. By September 1865 'many of them [were] already designed and some even drawn on the block', according to Georgina Burne-Jones, who recorded during a visit to the Red House that 'the talk of the men was much about the Earthly Paradise.'

What was not clear to the men, however, was quite how to print this great volume, and Morris tentatively dispatched Burne-Jones' drawing of Pan and Psyche to one of the two great Victorian trade engravers, Joseph Swain, to be cut. According to George Wardle, who was responsible for transferring Burne-Jones' drawings onto the wood blocks, the resulting engravings were 'so unsatisfactory that Morris tried to get the cutting done by un-professional hands', which meant that most of the blocks were instead cut by Morris himself and his close friends. Ultimately, it was found that the resulting woodcuts were too heavy to be balanced by any typeface available at the time, and so it was not until the founding of the Kelmscott Press, and the cutting of Morris' own types, that the work could be completed as the two men envisioned. 

Stock Code: 228691

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