The Ashmolean has acquired an important record of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, the illustrated letters of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98) to Helen Mary (May) Gaskell (1853–1940).
The archive, which has remained with May Gaskell’s descendants, consists of more than 200 letters dating from 1892 up to the year of Burne-Jones’s death: three albums of intimate letters from the artist to Mrs Gaskell; two albums of illustrated letters to Mrs Gaskell and her daughter, Daphne; and other ephemera such as the artist’s brushes which he used when painting his famous portrait of Amy Gaskell. The letters are one of the most endearing records of all Burne-Jones’s friendships. They recount both his innermost thoughts and feelings and feature a cast of humorous characters, fictitious and real.
They have been acquired for £200,000 with major support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund; the Art Fund; the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund; the Friends of the National Libraries; and numerous private donations.
Two of the albums are on display at the Ashmolean in the current Great British Drawings exhibition, open until 31 August. They will now enter the Museum's permanent collection. Following conservation, they will be made available as an invaluable resource to students and scholars of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and will be published online. The letters will add to the collection of drawings by Burne-Jones bequeathed to the Ashmolean in 1939 by Mrs Gaskell, forming one of the richest Pre-Raphaelite archives in the country.