Last Friday saw the setting up of a new display in the Ward Library on the work of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. at Peterhouse. Ford Madox Brown’s cartoon for the stained glass window of Queen Eleanor in the Hall (1870) has recently been acquired by the College, and is brought together with three cartoons by Edward Burne-Jones for the Hall and Combination Room.
An unusual detail of the Eleanor cartoon is the inscription in Brown’s hand just visible at the very foot of the page: ‘This cartoon is the property of the artist, copyright for stained glass only granted to the firm of William Morris Co.’ It was in part this reminder of the commercial and practical nature of the cartoons that suggested a display focused on the role they played in the creation of the Peterhouse stained glass. On show with Peterhouse library and archive material are a number of loans from the Stained Glass Museum, Ely, so that the process of stained glass manufacture can be traced through the exhibits. This starts with examples of the medieval glass that inspired Victorian designers, and moves through commissioning letters in the Peterhouse archives, the cartoons themselves, images of Burne-Jones’s account book, and the tools that were used to transfer cartoon to glass.
The involvement of Brown and Burne-Jones dates back to the late 1860s, when George Gilbert Scott Jr was placed in charge of the refurbishment and partial rebuilding of the Combination Room and Hall at Peterhouse. By this time Morris and his associates had already worked on a number of projects in Cambridge in conjunction with G.F. Bodley (at Queens’ and Jesus colleges, and All Saints’ church). At Peterhouse, Gilbert Scott Jr called in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. to create the tiles and stained glass. This job gained in significance when in early 1869 it was decided that new glass would have to be made for the refurbished Hall, a job finally completed in 1874. The letters themselves record moments in the discussions with the Fellow in charge of the refurbishments, the Bursar (and later Master) James Porter, including an early letter about the need for new glass, and a final letter from Morris himself about coming to look around the finished Hall.
In the Ward library Eleanor is hung alongside cartoons by Burne-Jones of St George and Hugo de Balsham, also for windows in the Hall. All three are hung high – lower than the actual Hall windows so that their detail can be appreciated, but still giving some sense of their relation to a finished three-light Hall window.
The fourth cartoon in College possession, Edward Burne-Jones’s chalk and watercolour Lucretius, has been placed horizontally at the display case, so that it can be examined at an distance more like that from which it was made. Next to the cartoon is a first edition of Georgiana Burne-Jones’s Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones (1904), open at the page that describes the working method:
He made the designs without hesitation; the result of incessant study from the life shewing itself in these large, free drawings, which came out upon the paper so quickly that it seemed as if they must have been already there and his hand were only removing a veil. The soft scraping sound of the charcoal in the long smooth lines comes back to me, together with his momentary exclamation of impatience when the stick snapped off short, as it so often did, and fell to the ground. He always stood at this work. If we were alone I read aloud as a matter of course – Carlyle’s translation of Wilhelm Meister was one of our books during the first winter at the Grange – but if anyone else was there we had music or talk, while the drawing still went on.
The creative process was not always so idyllic. Images of Burne-Jones’s account books (Archives of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) included in the display show that, as Kate Nichols puts it in the catalogue: ‘By the early 1870s Burne-Jones was scribbling increasingly vituperative and hyperbolic comments about his inadequate pay, the boredom and the mental anguish caused by endlessly repeating similar subject matter, his feelings of artistic inadequacy (and sometimes triumph), and the demeaning nature of cartoon drawing.’ A characteristic example is the satirical break down of the costs (to the artist) for the commission of Christ as Salvator Mundi for St Mary Magdalene, Monkton, Devon. This was charged and apparently executed on the same day as the Peterhouse Lucretius, who also holds a globe:
WEAR OF MORAL FIBRE
NAUSEA produced by
designing 2 globes in
2 right hands on same
FIGURE ITSELF £1
Brown (1821-93), like Burne-Jones, was an original partner in Morris, Marshall Faulkner and Co., and produced about 115 designs for windows between 1861 and 1874. His own ruminations on stained glass, also included in the catalogue, though less entertaining shed a more positive light on his attitude towards their production:
With its heavy lead-lines surrounding every part (and no stained-glass can be rational or good without strong lead-lines), stained glass does not admit of refined drawing, or else it is thrown away upon it. What it does admit of, and above all things imperatively requires, is fine colour: and what it can admit of, and does very much require also, is invention, expression, and good dramatic action. For this reason, work by the great historical artists is not thrown away upon stained glass windows, because, though high finish of execution is superfluous and against the spirit of this beautiful decorative art, yet, as expression and action can be conveyed in a few strokes equally as in the most elaborate art, on this side therefore stained glass rises again to the epic height.
Members of the College may view the exhibition during library opening hours. Visitors are welcome by appointment (email: library@). A catalogue is available.