Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Victorian Goth

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Victorian Goth

Article excerpt

William Burges and the High Victorian Dream by J. Mordaunt Crook Frances Lincoln £45, pp. 432, ISBN9780711233492 It is 32 years since the first edition of this hefty book appeared in 1981. The original was based on the research materials amassed by Charles Handley-Read, the pioneer scholar and collector of Victorian decorative arts and one-time art master at Bryanston, who killed himself in 1971.

Other people's research notes are often not easy to use, and Joe Crook has greatly expanded that core material, and presented it in an illuminating schematic way.

This second, revised and enlarged edition, as well as correcting errors and finetuning matters of detail, incorporates many hitherto 'lost' art objects by Burges, rediscovered in the aftermath of the first edition. The rich 'cream and brandy' literary mannerisms have also been toned down slightly. Most importantly, this new edition includes some splendiferous colour pictures.

The pub l ishers have produced an extremely handsome new tribute to Burges, the master of precious materials and glowing polychromy. The additional illustrations take advantage of the restoration in the intervening years of major Burges interiors, notably at Cardiff Castle (by the City Corporation) and Knightshayes in Devon (by the National Trust);

they make a good foil to the many historic black-and-whites.

The lucid structure and layout of the book are retained from the earlier version.

The preliminary tribute to Handley-Read is also republished. The chapters are devised to cover the range of Burges's genius. For he was not just an architect - one of the leading Victorian Goths - but a scholar, lecturer and brilliant decorative designer.

His circle included the whole of Pre-Raphaelite London. 'A strictly architectural study would have missed the point of his career.' Crook sets out to place Burges's design work in the context of High Victorian Romanticism, as proclaimed in the title.

The portraits painted of an often eccentric cast of figures are a particular feature of the book.

The first chapter, 'The Dream', deals with the Victorian vision of the Middle Ages which was the background to Burges's creativity, and is based on the theme of Crook's Slade Lectures at Oxford in 1979. …

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