William Burges's Great Bookcase and The Victorian Colour Revolution


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Charlotte Ribeyrol; With a contribution by Tea Ghigo

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Charlotte Ribeyrol presents a fascinating (book)case study exploring the story of an extraordinary object, William Burges’s (1827–1881) Great Bookcase. No fewer than 13 major artists, including Edward Burne-Jones, Edward Poynter, and Albert Moore, took part in the painting of this unique piece of furniture, which has now returned to the Ashmolean Museum after an absence of over 80 years. Ribeyrol throws new light on the chromophilia of the “Pre-Raphaelite” architect William Burges and his key role in shaping aesthetic debates about color in the 1860s. This crucial decade, which saw the advent of the first synthetic dyes, transformed the experience of color for many painters and poets in Burges’s circle. Interweaving art, literature, and chemistry, Ribeyrol reads the eight painted panels of the Great Bookcase in the context of this ‘color revolution’, which brought to the fore new approaches to color while simultaneously triggering a revival of the polychromy of the Pagan and Christian past. Drawing on pioneering interdisciplinary research and featuring new photography throughout, this book provides a definitive account of one of Burges’s most cherished and complex artworks.

Exhibition Schedule:

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
(September 2023–February 2024)

'The Colour Revolution: From Turner to Whistler'

Charlotte Ribeyrol is a professor in nineteenth-century British literature at the Sorbonne, Paris and an honorary curator at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Tea Ghigo is a conservation research fellow at the Ashmolean Museum.


Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
(September 2023–February 2024)

'The Colour Revolution: From Turner to Whistler'

ISBN: 9780300267976
Publication Date: June 13, 2023
240 pages, 8 1/2 x 10 5/8
227 color + b/w illus.