The collection comprises six letters from the painter Edward Burne-Jones to his friend, the art and social critic John Ruskin. Three of the letters were written in June 1862 while Burne-Jones was in Venice with his wife Georgiana. While there, Ruskin commissioned Burne-Jones with making copies of works by Venetian masters. These letters to Ruskin, who was in Milan at the time of their writing, reveal Burne-Jones’s anxiety about carrying out the task of copying satisfactorily. In one letter, Burne-Jones remarks upon the restoration work occurring at St. Mark’s, and in another letter he describes a trip to Torcello. This letter includes a cartoon sketch by Burne-Jones of himself and Georgiana with the Venice skyline behind them. These three letters are partially reproduced in Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, vol. 1. (London: Macmillan, 1904), 245-248. This period is also addressed in Fiona MacCarthy, The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 144.
Two more of the letters are written on printed stationary from the Burne-Jones family home, The Grange, in West Kensington. In one of these, dating from the 1880s, Burne-Jones remarks that he has just read the latest installment of Praeterita, Ruskin’s serialized autobiography. He reminisces about their trip to Milan together in the 1860s and wishes that he and Ruskin could be monks “painting books and being always let off divine service because of our skill in said painting.” In the same letter, Burne-Jones is glad that Ruskin is pleased with Thomas Matthews Rooke—Burne-Jones’s assistant whom Ruskin commissioned with making architectural drawings. This letter is partially reproduced in the introduction to The Complete Works of John Ruskin (Library Edition), ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), vol. 36, lv. The other letter written from The Grange contains a comedic set of cartoon sketches by Burne-Jones, illustrating the difficulties he has keeping his pictures straight on the wall. He wonders if Ruskin also has this issue.
A final, undated note pertains to a proposed meeting, which Burne-Jones must reschedule due to a conflict with a portrait “sitter.”
All six of the letters intimate the very great esteem Burne-Jones had for Ruskin. They are addressed variously to “dear Papa,” “My Blessed,” and “Oh Blessed One.”