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King Kofetau and beggar

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1884, 293.4×135.9 cm • Oil, Canvas

Description of the artwork «King Kofetau and beggar»

Picture "King Kofetau and beggar" This is an illustration of a legend about an African ruler who suddenly fell in love, although he was previously famous for his lack of interest in women. The object of his passion was a beautiful beggar, whom he eventually married and made his queen. This is a story about the power of love and its ability to overcome obstacles such as social origin.

Burne-Jones was inspired by the ballad “A Song of a Beggar Woman and the King,” written in 1612 and published in 1842, as well as Alfred Tennyson’s poem, which appeared in the same year. Tennyson, who in 1884 received the title of peer, was extremely popular among Victorians, including Queen Victoria herself. Many of his poems have become a source of inspiration for artists of the time.

Like many pre-Raphaelites, Burne-Jones chose a long and narrow vertical format canvas. A beautiful beggar woman sits taller than the king - a very clear reminder of the imminent increase in her status. The pale skin of the girl contrasts with the darker tones of the rest of the picture, concentrating the viewer's attention on a thin, ethereal figure so typical of the heroes of Burn-Jones.

Scientists noted the similarity of the poor girl with the artist's wife Georgianawhich married him in 1860. She was one of the four famous sisters MacDonald (the other three also married an outstanding man of the time), and later became the biographer of her husband. However, their union was not always cloudless. Roman painter with a modelMaria Zambako caused a scandal when she, having lost her mind at the end of their relationship, publicly threatened to commit suicide.

Interestingly, one flower in the picture “King Kofetoi and beggar woman” is an anemone, which in Victorian England was considered a symbol of rejected love. This feeling is clearly not consistent with the legend, but it may have been significant for the artist himself. Scientists also point out that the theme of love conquering class and financial prejudices is consistent with the ideas expressedWilliam Morris - A committed socialist and one of the closest friends of Burn-Jones.

Metal artist William Benson posed for King Cofetois. He, according to the biographers of Burn-Jones, made the crown, which his hero holds in his hand, because the author of the picture sought to accurately reproduce all the objects and wrote their nature. An interesting solution was found for the clothing of a beggar woman. The poem says that she appeared before the king in a "gray and virtuous" dress, which Burne-Jones considered, by his expression, "unappetizing." And yet he did not change the image described by the poet, but put his heroine in an almost transparent dark gray tunic.

Burne-Jones began writing "King Kofetoi and beggar" in 1861/62. After 12 years, he developed a new composition, and returned to the original canvas in 1881. In April 1884, the artist announced the end of the work. In addition to literary works, it was influenced by the picture "Madonna della Vittoria (Madonna of Victory)"written in 1496Andrea Mantegna and now stored in the Louvre.

Several sketches of the pre-Raphaelite masterpiece have come down to our days. Small work in gouachenow owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber depicts the main characters sitting much closer together. And on full-size cardboardmade in gouache and crayons (collection of an art gallery in Birmingham), a different approach to the lighting of figures is seen.

In the spring of 1884, the painting “King Kofetoi and the beggar woman” was exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery and was very well received by the public. The sentimentality of the topic and the happy ending of the story undoubtedly refreshingly affected the nineteenth-century audience, which was accustomed mainly to narrations with a sad ending. The Art Journal declared the work "picture of the year", and The Times went further and called it "not only the finest work that Mr. Burne-Jones ever wrote, but one of the best paintings ever written by an Englishman." Five years later, the masterpiece was presented at the World Exhibition in Paris, and its author received the Order of the Legion of Honor. The artist's wife Georgiana claimed that "in this picture there are more of Edward's personal traits than in any of the other ones created by him."

Author: Vlad Maslov
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About the artwork
Subject and objects: Literary scene
Style of art and technique: The Pre-Raphaelites, Oil

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