Burne-Jones associated this painting with a refrain from a Breton folk ballad: "Alas, I know a love song, / Sad or happy, each in turn." Drawing inspiration from the gothicizing Pre-Raphaelite movement, the artist conjured a twilight scene with a richly romantic, medieval air, enhanced by allusions to Italian Renaissance art, from the warm, dewy colors to the gracious figures and original frame, which recalls sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century Venetian designs. When the picture was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 1878, the novelist Henry James admiringly compared it to "some mellow Giorgione or some richly-glowing Titian."
The Victorian painter Edward Burne-Jones was a friend of William Morris from their time at Oxford, and later of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin. He designed stained glass and tapestries for Morris' firm and was also a gifted book illustrator. Between 1864 and 1870 Burne-Jones worked principally in watercolor, afterwards concentrating on oil painting. He was created a baronet in 1894, and was also a recipient of the Légion d'Honneur, as his work was extremely popular in France, and in Italy as well, from a relatively early date.
In a letter of May 30, 1868, to Burne-Jones, William Graham accepted the painter’s offer of first refusal of a version in oil of his watercolor Le Chant d’Amour (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), or The Love Song, which is signed and dated 1865. Graham had bought the watercolor after it was exhibited in 1866 at the Old Watercolour Society, the first work of Burne-Jones that he acquired. As it was hanging in Graham’s London drawing room, he offered to lend it back to the artist from August until November of 1868, when he would be in Scotland.
The theme was a refrain in Burne-Jones’s work over more than fifteen years. When, in June 1860, he married Georgiana Macdonald, the couple received as a wedding gift a small upright piano on the inside lid of which he painted an undated vignette showing an angel working the bellows of a portable organ played by a young woman (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). About 1863–65 Burne-Jones made a preparatory study in pencil and red chalk for the musician, and, perhaps also at that time, a sepia wash and gouache study from a model of a boy in the pose, but not the costume, of the knight in armor (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery). He also made a drawing in pencil or chalk that was described in the catalogue of his 1898 estate as a "study for Love in the ‘Chant D’Amour,’ 1865." After he completed the watercolor that went to Graham, the artist made yet another, which is signed and dated 1866 and shows only the musician and the knight.
In 1868 Burne-Jones signaled his intention to begin the present large canvas, which he continued to work on in 1871 and 1873, completed after a month’s work in 1877, and showed for the first time at the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition of 1878. Its critical reception was mixed. For Henry James, Le Chant d’Amour resembled "some mellow Giorgione or some richly-glowing Titian" and was "a brilliant success in the way of color." By contrast, critic W. H. Mallock reacted against the picture’s latent sexuality, finding in the figure of the woman the "languor of exhausted animalism."
At the time of the Grosvenor Gallery show, or shortly thereafter, it seems likely that Burne-Jones prepared the beautiful graphite replica (location unknown) that bears his monogram and is inscribed "to JCC," possibly referring to Joseph Comyns Carr, a friend, critic, and codirector of the Grosvenor Gallery. Le Chant d’Amour also made an appearance in miniature. Burne-Jones had fallen in love toward the end of the 1860s with Maria Zambaco, a member of the Greek community in London whose portrait (Clemens-Sels-Museum, Neuss, Germany) he signed and dated August 7, 1870. On the shelf in front of her is an illuminated book open to a page with a tiny replica of the version in watercolor.
For Burne-Jones and for his time, Le Chant d’Amour is a key picture, in which Romantic medievalism is suffused with a dewy, pastoral warmth emanating from Renaissance Venice. The traditions of manuscript illumination merge with the influences of Botticelli and Titian.
The frame is original, and is consistent with others selected by the artist for paintings of the 1870s (Mitchell and Roberts 2000 and Rosenfeld 2012).
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Inscription: Signed (lower left): EBJ
William Graham, London (1878–d. 1885; inv., 1882, no. 2; his estate sale, Christie's, London, April 3, 1886, no. 163, for £3,307.10.0 to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1886; sold to Ruston]; Joseph Ruston, Monk's Manor, Lincoln (1886–d. 1897; his estate sale, Christie's, London, May 21, 1898, no. 25, for £3,360 to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1898; sold to Ismay]; Thomas Henry Ismay, Dawpool, Thurstaston, Wirral, Chester (1898–d. 1899); his son, James Hainsworth Ismay, The Cottage, Bambridge, Isle of Wight (1899–d. 1930); Mrs. James H. Ismay (1930–45; sold to Williams); [Williams & Son, London, 1945–47; sold to MMA]
London. Grosvenor Gallery. "Summer Exhibition," May 1878, no. 108 (as "Le Chant d'Amour").
Manchester. location unknown. "Royal Jubilee Exhibition," 1887, no. 205 (lent by Joseph Ruston).
Corporation of London Art Gallery. "Loan Collection of Pictures," June 12–August 31, 1890, no. 26 (lent by Joseph Ruston).
London. New Gallery. "Exhibition of the Works of Edward Burne-Jones," November 1892–? 1893, no. 40 (as "Un Chant d'Amour," lent by Joseph Ruston, Esq.).
London. New Gallery. "The Works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones," December 31, 1898–April 1899, no. 109 (lent by T. H. Ismay).
London. Palace of Fine Arts. "Franco-British Exhibition," May 14–December ?, 1908, no. 98 (lent by James Ismay).
London. Tate Gallery. "Centenary Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bart.," June 17–August 31, 1933, no. 9 (lent by the Trustees of the late James Ismay).
New York. University Club. October 13, 1948–March 20, 1949.
London. Tate Gallery. "The Pre-Raphaelites," March 7–May 28, 1984, no. 149.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Lost Paradise: Symbolist Europe," June 8–October 15, 1995, no. 37.
New Haven. Yale Center for British Art. "The Grosvenor Gallery: A Palace of Art in Victorian England," March 2–April 28, 1996, no. 8.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The Victorians: British Painting 1837–1901," February 16–May 11, 1997, no. 38.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer," June 4–September 6, 1998, no. 84.
Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. "Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer," October 17, 1998–January 17, 1999, no. 84.
Copenhagen. Statens Museum for Kunst. "Symbolism in Danish and European Painting 1870–1910," September 29, 2000–January 14, 2001, no. 58.
New Haven. Yale Center for British Art. "Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney," September 27–December 30, 2001, no. 62.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art. "Artist as Narrator: Nineteenth Century Narrative Art in England and France," September 8–November 27, 2005, no. 11.
New Haven. Yale Center for British Art. "Art & Music in Britain: Four Encounters, 1730–1900," October 5–December 31, 2006, unnumbered cat.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design," May 20–October 26, 2014, no catalogue.
William Graham. Letter to Edward Burne-Jones. May 30, 1868 [see Ref. Garnett 1982], places his watercolor by Burne-Jones of Chant d'Amour at the artist's disposal "to facilitate your wish to paint [the subject] in oils".
Henry Blackburn, ed. Grosvenor Notes: with Facsimiles of Sketches by the Artists. Exh. cat., Grosvenor Gallery. London, 1878, p. 36, no. 108, ill. (line engraving), as Le Chant d'Amour, painted in 1873, the entry accompanied by the lines "Hélas, je sais un chant d'amour, / Triste ou gai tour à tour".
[Henry James]. "The London Exhibitions—The Grosvenor Gallery." The Nation (May 23, 1878), p. 338 [reprinted in John L. Sweeney, ed., "The Painter's Eye," London, 1956, pp. 162–64], finds the figures "too flat," but the color "a brilliant success," "like some mellow Giorgione or some richly-glowing Titian," and praises Burne-Jones's pictures as "far and away the most interesting and remarkable things in the exhibition".
William Mallock. "A Familiar Colloquy on Recent Art." The Nineteenth Century 4 (July 1878), p. 295, parodying contemporary art criticism in the words of the fictional Ruskinian Gage Stanley, finds in this painting the "languor of exhausted animalism".
"The Grosvenor Gallery: Second Notice." Magazine of Art 1 (1878), p. 81, praises the "beauty of colour" and "heart-piercing pathos" of the picture, Burne-Jones's finest of the season, but criticizes the artist as "self-consciously imitative".
"The Grosvenor Gallery (Second and concluding Notice.)." Athenæum no. 2638 (May 18, 1878), p. 642.
"The Grosvenor Gallery." Art-Journal 17 (June 1878), p. 155, as one of "the most Venetian examples of colour ever seen out of the studio of Gabriel Rossetti".
"The Picture Galleries." Saturday Review (May 4, 1878), p. 561.
"The Grosvenor Gallery (2nd Notice)." Spectator (May 18, 1878), p. 637.
Frederick Wedmore. Studies in English Art. 2nd ser., London, 1880, pp. 214, 223, 225–26.
Walter Hamilton. The Æsthetic Movement in England. London, 1882, p. 25.
Catalogue of Pictures, Ancient and Modern, 35 Grosvenor Place. 1882, no. 2 [see Ref. Garnett 1982].
"The Graham Collection." Times (April 5, 1886), p. 12, records the 3,150 guineas paid by Agnew as the highest price for any work by Burne-Jones, and nearly three times that paid by Graham in 1878.
Thomas W. Harris inThe Pictorial Record of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Manchester, 1887. Ed. John H. Nodal. Manchester, 1887, p. 29.
Julia Cartwright. "Edward Burne-Jones, A.R.A." Art-Journal, n.s., (January 1893), p. 6.
Malcolm Bell. Sir Edward Burne-Jones: A Record and Review. London, 1894, pp. 22, 28, 39, 47–48, 53, ill. opp. p. 42, dates it 1868–77; mentions the earliest version, on the piano, and dates the watercolor and the variant watercolor without the figure of Love (Knight in Armour with a Lady) 1865.
Olivier Georges Destrée. Les Préraphaélites: Notes sur l'art décoratif et la peinture en Angleterre. Brussels, , p. 94.
Claude Phillips. "The Ruston Collection: The Modern Pictures—II." Magazine of Art 17 (1894), p. 97, ill. opp. p. 100, as dating back "as far as 1865".
G. B. "Artisti contemporanei: Sir Edward Burne-Jones, II." Emporium 3 (January 1896), pp. 37, 41, 54–55.
Richard Muther. The History of Modern Painting. Vol. 3, London, 1896, p. 612, ill. p. 596.
A[lfred]. G[eorge]. Temple. The Art of Painting in the Queen's Reign. London, 1897, pp. 126–27, ill. opp. p. 126.
Julia Cartwright. "In Memoriam—Edward Burne-Jones." Art-Journal, n.s., (1898), p. 248.
Robert de La Sizeranne. "In Memoriam: Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bart.: A Tribute from France." Magazine of Art 22 (1898), p. 520.
John Atwood Slater. "An Ethical Retrospect of the Work of Burne-Jones." The Architectural Review: For the Artist & Craftsman 6 (June–December 1899), p. 75.
Percy H. Bate. The English Pre-Raphaelite Painters, their Associates and Successors. London, 1899, pp. 105–6.
Mrs. Arthur Bell (N. d'Anvers). Representative Painters of the XIXth Century. London, 1899, p. 35.
Léonce Bénédite. "Deux idéalistes: Gustave Moreau et E. Burne-Jones." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 5 (January–June 1899), pp. 268, 368, 371, ill.
Robert de La Sizeranne. La Peinture anglaise contemporaine. 2nd ed. Paris, 1899, pp. 190, 197–99, 210.
Cosmo Monkhouse. British Contemporary Artists. London, 1899, pp. 136, 141–42.
Aymer Vallance. "The Decorative Art of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Baronet." Art-Journal Easter issue (1900), p. 22.
Julia Cartwright. "Burne-Jones." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 24 (1900), pp. 33, 38.
O. von Schleinitz. Burne-Jones. Bielefeld, 1901, p. 52, pl. 16.
Masters in Art: Burne-Jones 2 (July 1901), pp. 37–38, pl. 9.
Richard Muther. Geschichte der englischen Malerei. Berlin, 1903, pp. 230–31, ill.
G[eorgiana] B[urne]-J[ones]. Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones. New York, 1904, vol. 1, p. 207; vol. 2, p. 30, in 1872, he "Painted on the large 'Chant d'Amour'".
Fortunée De Lisle. Burne-Jones. London, 1904, pp. 108–10, ill. opp. p. 109.
Alfredo Melani. Nell'arte e nella vita. Milan, 1904, p. 92, dates it 1873.
Royal Cortissoz. "Edward Burne-Jones." Munsey's Magazine (February 1907), p. 584.
"Le Chant d'Amour." Scrip 2 (May 1907), p. 246.
A. Agresti. I Prerafaellisti. Turin, 1908, p. 310.
Kenyon Cox. Old Masters and New. New York, 1908, p. 177.
Virginia Calhoun. "A Model for Many Famous Painters: The Career of Antonio Corsi, Who Has Posed for Many of the Most Celebrated Modern Pictures Here and Abroad." World's Work 16 (June 1908), p. 10344, claims that Corsi modelled for Burne-Jones off and on for seven or eight years, and that this is one of the pictures for which he posed.
Charles Ricketts and Robert Ross. "The Franco-British Exhibition." Burlington Magazine 13 (July 1908), p. 197.
Gabriel Mourey. D.-G. Rossetti et les Préraphaélites Anglais. Paris, , p. 99, ill. opp. p. 108.
Walter Armstrong. Art in Great Britain and Ireland. London, 1909, p. 234, fig. 424 [American ed., New York, 1921].
Léonce Bénédite. Notre art, nos maîtres. Paris, [ca. 1922], p. 196.
Bryson Burroughs. "A Modern View of the Pre-Raphaelites." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 5 (May 1947), ill. p. 231, dates it 1868–77.
W[illiam]. G[eorge]. Constable, ed. Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings in Water Color. Boston, 1949, p. 50, notes that both the Boston watercolor and the oil version were owned by Graham.
Aurelien Digeon. The English School of Painting. London, , p. 120.
The Pre-Raphaelites. Exh. cat., Herron Museum of Art. Indianapolis, 1964, unpaginated, under no. 11.
Michael I. Wilson. "The Case of the Victorian Piano." Victoria and Albert Museum Yearbook 3 (1972), p. 140, explains that on the inside of the keyboard cover of a small piano received as a wedding gift in 1860 Burne-Jones painted "two white-clad figures (one personifying Love) with a portable organ" [fig. 8]—a composition foreshadowing the present picture.
Martin Harrison and Bill Waters. Burne-Jones. New York, 1973, pp. 49, 66, 98, colorpl. 15 [2nd ed., Barrie & Jenkins, London, 1989], date it 1868–73; assign the group on the piano to about 1864 [fig. 46]; call a pencil sketch of about 1861 a possible early idea for the composition [fig. 55]; mention the appearance of the subject in the portrait of Maria Zambaco.
Martin Harrison. Pre-Raphaelite Paintings and Graphics. 2nd ed. London, 1974, p. 7.
John Christian. Burne-Jones: The paintings, graphic and decorative work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1833–98. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery. London, 1975, pp. 10, 41, 48, dates it 1868–77.
Denys Sutton. "Celtic and Classical Dreams." Apollo 102 (November 1975), pp. 315–16, fig. 2, incorrectly as exhibited at the Hayward Gallery, 1975.
Michael I. Wilson. "Burne-Jones and Piano Reform." Apollo 102 (November 1975), p. 342, dates it 1868–77.
Penelope Fitzgerald. Edward Burne-Jones: A Biography. London, 1975, pp. 97, 182, notes that the flowers are tulips and wall-flowers, emblems respectively of ardent love and bitterness in the Victorian iconography of flowers.
Barrie Bullen. "The Palace of Art: Sir Coutts Lindsay and the Grosvenor Gallery." Apollo 102 (November 1975), p. 356, notes that for Mallock in 1875 it summed up the "modern pursuit of godless and fleshly pleasure".
Oliver Garnett. Letter to Sir John Pope-Hennessy. September 27, 1982, quotes from a letter from William Graham to Burne-Jones, dated by Lady Burne-Jones May 30, 1868 (Burne-Jones Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, XXV.11A).
L. O. [Leonée Ormond?]. "Edward Burne-Jones and John Christian, The Little Holland House Album . . . ." Burlington Magazine 124 (March 1982), p. 200, mentions a drawing in the album for Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci as an early prototype for the painting, of 1868–73.
John Christian inThe Pre-Raphaelites. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1984, pp. 227–29, 236, no. 149, ill. (color), dates it 1868–77, calling it "one of Burne-Jones's most hauntingly poetical works"; describes the role of William Graham as the artist's patron.
Denys Sutton. "Aspects of British Collecting, Part IV: XV The Age of Robert Browning." Apollo 123 (August 1985), pp. 96–97, fig. 3, remarks that it possesses "that romantic 'Giorgionismo' deeply attractive to fin de siècle aesthetes".
Maria Teresa Benedetti and Gianna Piantoni inBurne-Jones: dal preraffaellismo al simbolismo. Exh. cat., Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome. Milan, 1986, pp. 22, 165, ill. p. 21, mention it as a version of the Boston watercolor which appears as an illustration in the book held by Maria Zambaco in her portrait by Burne-Jones.
Oliver Garnett inBurne-Jones: dal preraffaellismo al simbolismo. Ed. Maria Teresa Benedetti and Gianna Piantoni. Exh. cat., Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome. Milan, 1986, pp. 88–89.
Drawings, Watercolours and Paintings from the Collection of the late Sir John and Lady Witt. Sotheby's, London. February 19, 1987, under no. 173, describe a closely corresponding drawing signed EBJ / to / JCC.
Jean Clair and Guy Cogeval inLost Paradise: Symbolist Europe. Exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Montreal, 1995, pp. 135, 199, no. 37, colorpl. 270, date it 1868–77; attach symbolic meaning to the flowers in the foreground and call the knight's bare feet a sign of submission; note disjunctive elements in the painting "on the theme of seduction and absorption in love," a version of the "belle dame sans merci" topos.
Dominique Jarrassé. Les Préraphaélites. Paris, 1995, p. 64, ill. p. 11 (color).
Susan P. Casteras inThe Grosvenor Gallery: A Palace of Art in Victorian England. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, Yale University. New Haven, 1996, pp. 83–84, 192, no. 8, fig. 42, comments on the criticism of this canvas and another of Burne-Jones's entries, Laus Veneris (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne), in the 1878 exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery.
Malcolm Warner inThe Victorians: British Painting 1837–1901. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1997, pp. 141–42, no. 38, ill. (color).
Stephen Wildman and John Christian. Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 59, 99, 109, 143, 145–46, 167, 196, 212–15, 239–40, no. 84, ill. (color), note that according to Burne-Jones's work record (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), it was painted in 1868, 1872–73, and 1877; add that Graham regarded it as the pendant to Laus Veneris, and that both were enlarged from earlier watercolors.
Alan Crawford. "Burne-Jones as a Decorative Artist." Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, p. 5.
Laurence des Cars. "Burne-Jones and France." Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, p. 36.
Christopher Newall. "Burne-Jones." Apollo 148 (August 1998), p. 50.
Robert Hughes. "An Escapist's Dreamworld: Modern Taste Rediscovers the Work of Edward Burne-Jones." Time (June 15, 1998), p. 76, ill.
Oliver Garnett. "The Letters and Collection of William Graham—Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector." Walpole Society 62 (2000), pp. 166–68, 225, no. A57, p. 249, no. B1, p. 256, nos. B12, B13, p. 259, no. B17, pp. 261–62, no. B20, p. 287, no. b4, fig. 117.
Peter Nørgaard Larsen inSymbolism in Danish and European Painting 1870–1910. Exh. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst. [Copenhagen], 2000, p. 107, ill. color pp. 92, 107 (detail and overall).
Louise Straarup-Hansen inSymbolism in Danish and European Painting 1870–1910. Exh. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst. [Copenhagen], 2000, p. 300, no. 58, ill. (color), dates it 1868–77.
Symbolism in Danish and European Painting 1870–1910: Guide to the Exhibition. Exh. brochure, Statens Museum for Kunst. [Copenhagen], 2000, p. 42, no. 58.
Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts. "Burne-Jones's Picture Frames." Burlington Magazine 142 (June 2000), p. 367, describe this painting's frame as a Venetian type probably adapted from one sketched by the artist in Venice in 1871 or 1873.
Malcolm Warner et al. Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, Yale University. New Haven, 2001, pp. 204–6, 208, no. 62, ill. (color), dates it 1868–77 and calls it an homage to the painters of the Venetian Renaissance.
Important British Pictures. Sotheby's, London. June 12, 2003, p. 78.
David Peters Corbett. Edward Burne-Jones. London, 2004, pp. 32, 39.
Susan P. Casteras inArtist as Narrator: Nineteenth Century Narrative Art in England and France. Ed. Hardy George. Exh. cat., Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Oklahoma City, 2005, pp. 56, 59, 63, 80 n. 4, p. 133, no. 11, ill. p. 57 (color), dates it 1868–77.
Sophia Andres. The Pre-Raphaelite Art of the Victorian Novel: Narrative Challenges to Visual Gendered Boundaries. Columbus, 2005, pp. 137, 140.
Victorian and Edwardian Art. Sotheby's, London. July 15, 2008, pp. 30, 32, under no. 14, fig. 1.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 290–93, no. 138, ill. (color).
Jason Rosenfeld. E-mail to Keith Christiansen. October 7, 2012, notes that the frame is original and consistent with those on other paintings of the 1870s by Burne-Jones.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 439, no. 364, ill. pp. 372, 439 (color).
The lines "Helas, je sais un chant d'amour, / Triste ou gai, tour à tour" appearing in the catalogue of the 1878 Grosvenor Gallery exhibition are first referred to as the refrain of a Breton song in the 1886 Graham sale catalogue. The same lines were used by George du Maurier as the dedication of his book Trilby (1894).
Both the Graham sale catalogue of 1886 and the Ruston sale catalogue of 1898 list this picture as having been exhibited at Birmingham in 1885, but this is apparently an error.
One of Burne-Jones's studio assistants, T. M. Rooke, made a small copy of the composition in brown wash, which was offered for sale in 1975 by Julian Hartnoll, London.