Review of Portrait of a Muse by Andrew Gailey


Frances Graham, Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Dream

The first biography of Frances Graham, the muse of leading Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones for the last 25 years of his life. Her life is a study in power – artistic, social, political, familial, sexual – and fascinating for being played out from a perennial position of weakness. The tale of a remarkable woman living in an age on the cusp of modernity. 

‘You haunt me everywhere.’ So wrote Edward Burne-Jones to Frances Graham, his muse for the last 25 triumphant years of his life: ‘I haven’t a corner of my life or my thoughts where you are not’.  He drew her obsessively, included her in some of his most famous paintings, and showered her with gifts. Even when she betrayed him to marry, he would return to her.  To him ’all the romance and beauty of my life means you.’ This is the first biography of his muse. 

What makes a muse? The word conjures up for the artist a human cocoon of sexual allure and worship: part inspiration, part lover and protector. Yet however beguiling, demanding and volatile a muse could be, it remained a life surrendered to the art of another. In Victorian England this was especially so with the hierarchies between the sexes so firmly entrenched. The life of a muse to a Pre-Raphaelite artist was no different: Ruskin and Effie Gray, Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal, both powerfully destructive relationships that ended respectively in divorce and death. The one who survived was Frances Graham. She had a restless, irrepressible intelligence, able to mix at her small dinners politicians and aristocrats with writers, artists and the up and coming, be they Oscar Wilde or Albert Einstein. In time, she became the confidante of three government ministers, including Asquith, the Liberal leader.

ISBN: 9781913394479
ISBN-10: 1913394476  
Format: Hardcover 
Language: English 
Published: 20th September 2020
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press Ltd. 

The Wizard by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Birmingham Museum, UK, 1896/98

All my life I have known him and admired him, when I was fifteen we used to see much of him and he was the first man of genius I had ever met and that flung open the world. {Frances Graham}

Andrew Gailey has done such a beautiful job on, Portrait of a Muse. As a biography, it is a life to death retelling of the muse of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones.  Bringing a muse out of the shadows into the spotlight is no mean feat. Anyone familiar with Burne-Jones's paintings undoubtedly has seen Frances Graham who later became Lady Horner when she married Jack Horner and lived a long life until 1940. It is quite an accomplishment researching and detailing Frances's life; although growing up in a wealthy family, having a father who was a patron of the arts and very good friends with a few of the Pre-Raphaelite painters including Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Andrew Gailey tells a charming story of a young teenaged Frances going with her father to visit 'Gabriel's' home in Cheyne Walk while her father conversed with him in his studio about upcoming requests and possibilities.  

The reader will get to know Frances very well as she grows up; her personality and passion for art matching her father's, while her mother's a total opposite not liking art at all. Frances was twelve when her father's friendship with Burn-Jones began. William Graham, M.P., regarded Burne-Jones highly as a painter and artist. Burne-Jones was always around the house and he noticed Frances right away never letting on until she was around fifteen years old. She sat for him several times while he drew, sketched, and then painted her throughout his life.  Edward Burne-Jones would have been a married man, a father and in his forties.  According to Frances, 

When I was about 18 or 19, Edward Burne-Jones, who was about 40, and living a quiet life, became my friend and poured into my lucky lap all the treasures one of the most wonderful minds that was ever created.

I was so torn reading, Portrait of a Muse, fully knowing that I would discover further details about the human side of Edward Burne-Jones. I am well aware of two of his affairs (or friendships) but Frances makes it three. According to his circle of friends he had a very sensitive and emotional side to his personality; getting 'infatuated' early on with young girls who struck his fancy. His surviving letters tell in his own words his 'attachment' and his desire to bring his fantasy world to life regardless of how his wife, Georgiana (Georgie) felt about it. Sadly, she was well aware of his 'friendships'. My heart just broke for her. The muses are equally at fault.  Burne-Jones wrote to Frances,

For you fit me through and through and only to look at you is to live splendidly.  Oh dear one, you are so deep in my life that you are a part of the air I breathe-are you jealous of my surroundings? You said yourself that triangular company was perplexing and anxious work. And often I thought of you-for it was as if you and I at the end of life were chatting together over the past.

I would highly recommend, Portrait of a Muse, to any art lover who enjoys reading about beautiful paintings, beautiful people, and the comings and goings of artists during their lives. Frances Graham led a very full life having married, had children, even naming one son Edward. It was a pleasure getting to know her.  

Thank you to Wilmington Square Books An imprint of Bitter Lemon Press for their beautiful hardcover edition to review. 

Portrait of a Muse by Andrew Gailey is available worldwide at online retail stores. 



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