Edward Burne-Jones, William Graham (1817–1885)

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
William Graham (1817–1885)
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 54.5 cm, Overall width: 41 cm
Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Catalogue Number


William Graham (1817–1885) was the son of a wealthy shipping merchant whose company, W. & J. Graham & Co., he later ran before entering Parliament as a Liberal member for Glasgow in 1865. Graham became a close friend and patron of Edward Burne-Jones as early as 1856, and the artist remained a devoted friend of the family after Graham’s death. Burne-Jones harboured a particular fondness for Graham’s fourth daughter, Frances Jane Graham (1854–1940). Seven years after Graham’s death, Burne-Jones wrote to Frances of her father’s ‘genius’ in his ‘perception and instinct for painting.’1 Georgiana Burne-Jones noted that although Graham was a ‘keen man of business . . . simplicity and devotion of soul were as evident in him as in a cloistered monk. His face was like that of a saint and at times like one transfigured.’2 Oliver Garrett has noted that Burne-Jones was a ‘reluctant portraitist’ who found it ‘difficult to express individual personality’ and therefore restricted himself to portraits of family and close friends, such as the Grahams.3 In 1879, Burne-Jones completed a portrait of Frances Graham (private collection) and the following year made a drawing of William Graham as a study for this portrait (private collection). In the present unfinished oil portrait, Burne-Jones puts aside all notions of an ideal form, presenting a somewhat stark and severe image of his friend and patron. The portrait, using a palette of dark blue against a murky bluish-grey background, reflects perhaps Graham’s already failing health, which lead to a prolonged illness before his eventual death in 1885.

by Devon Cox


Frances Horner, Time Remembered, London : WIlliam Heinemann, 1933, p. 6

Stephen Wildman and John Christian, Edward Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer, New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, pp. 108–9

Oliver Garnett, 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham: Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector', The Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, cat. no. b35, fig. 90, p. 291

Edward Burne-Jones, ed. Alison Smith, exh. cat., London : Tate Publishing, 2018, cat. no 107, pp. 147–8, 150–1, 219


  1. Sir Edward Burne-Jones to Frances Horner, July 1892, Burne-Jones Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, XXVII, 13.

  2. Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, 2 vols, London: Macmillan, 1904, vol. 1, pp. 295–6.

  3. Oliver Garnett, ‘The Letters and Collection of William Graham: Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphaelite Collector’, The Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, p. 169.


Related catalogue items from Mells Manor

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    The Presentation of the Virgin

    Domenico Beccafumi, 1540s

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    The Madonna del Roseto

    after Bernardino Luini

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    The Virgin and Child with a Donor

    possibly Marchigian Master, c.1520–? 1530