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Le Chant d’Amour

engraved by Robert Walker Macbeth after Edward Coley Burne Jones

published by The Fine Art Society, London,


etching printed on paper

Signed by the artist and the engraver in pencil, stamped with the Printseller’s Association stamp

one of 350 artist’s proofs, only state

Dimensions: 44.3 x 57.1 cm. (platemark); 62 x 76 cm. (sheet)

Framed in original Victorian black and gilt frame, retaining original glass with the original label to the reverse of Robert Dunthorne.

Condition: laid down to canvas, new conservation mount.

References: Hartnoll, Julian, The Reproductive Engravings after Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1988, no: 9.


A fine example of Macbeth’s etching of Burne-Jones’s celebrated picture `Le Chant d’Amour’, one of 350 artist’s proofs signed by the engraver and the artist, which is preserved in the original Victorian frame which retains Dunthorne’s gallery label, and is in entirely unrestored condition.Burne-Jones’s painting `Le Chant d’Amour’ (finished 1877, now held by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) was commissioned by William Graham, the artist’s principal patron and close friend, in 1868 (although not finished until 1877). The title was taken from the refrain of an old Breton song:

‘Helas! Je sais un chant d’amour,
Triste ou gai, tour à tour.’

Such songs were collected and sung by Georgiana Burne-Jones, and the original design was conceived for the decoration of a piano which the artist and his wife were given as a wedding present in 1860 (now in The Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Described by John Christian as `one of Burne-Jones’s most haunting works’ (Hartnoll, p.22), `Le Chant d’Amour’ was considered by the writer Henry James to be `a brilliant success’ (op. cit., p.23) when it was first exhibited at the Grosvenor in 1878; indeed when Graham’s collection was sold in 1885, the picture was bid up to 3,105 guineas–the highest price of the sale.In 1882 Burne-Jones decided to publish prints after his paintings, although, unusually among his contemporaries, he enforced the most rigorous control over these; as Christopher Newall states, `Burne-Jones was unique in his exacting and most fastidious interest in the technical and aesthetic aspects of reproductive printmaking, and in the care that he took in selecting the engravers who were entrusted to reproduce his paintings’ (Hartnoll, p. 8). As a consequence of this stance, only twelve prints signed by the artist were ever issued, in editions of up to 400 artist’s proofs, conforming to the rigid definitions of fine art prints laid down in the Printsellers’ Association’s Articles of Association (as authorised to by conformity with these articles, this print bears the printer’s blindstamp in the lower left-hand margin). After the prints were pulled, the printing plates were destroyed, to prevent further impressions being taken (the one exception was the printing plate for Jasinski’s etching of `The Annunciation’, which Burne-Jones presented to the South Kensington Museum, on the condition that it would never be printed from). The present etching is the work of the artist and engraver Robert Walker Macbeth; Macbeth was a member of both the Royal Academy and the Royal Watercolour Society, a highly-regarded artist in his own right, and also an accomplished printmaker, whose interpretations of works by other Victorian artists enjoyed a high status critically. This example of Macbeth’s print is remarkable for its fresh and original condition, and is preserved within its original frame, which bears the label of Robert Dunthorne’s The Rembrandt Head Gallery. Dunthorne had published earlier prints by Burne-Jones–`The Birth of Galatea’ (1885) and `Pan and Psyche’ (1887)–as well as prints by Whistler and Helleu, and it can be assumed that this is the frame in which the engraving was originally sold. A copy of the etching was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1896.

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