Not currently on display at the V&A

A Peacock

Oil Painting
1891 (painted)

Oil painting, 'A Peacock', Edward Burne-Jones

Object details

Object type
TitleA Peacock
Materials and techniques
Oil on plaster
Brief description
Oil painting, 'A Peacock', Edward Burne-Jones
  • Approx. height: 122.2cm
  • Approx. width: 82.5cm
Sight measurements (measured 11/06/07 by Emma Luker and Rachel Sloan)
Credit line
Lent by Mrs Margaret Mackail
Object history
Historical significance:

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was the leading figure in the second phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His paintings of subjects from medieval legend and Classical mythology and his designs for stained glass, tapestry and many other media played an important part in the Aesthetic Movement and the history of international Symbolism.

This painting was removed from one of the walls in the Burne-Jones’s country residence, North End House in Rottingdean. This mural decoration was one part of a larger decorative scheme conceived and executed by Burne-Jones for the nursery, which was in an attic room at the top of the house. According to Margaret Mackail (née Burne-Jones, the daughter of Edward Burne-Jones) they were painted in July 1891 for her daughter Angela who had been born in January 1890. Angela Thirkell (Burne-Jones’ granddaughter) became a well known author and included an account of this painting in her book Three Houses which was published in 1931. She describes how on the one sloping wall ‘my grandfather had painted a picture for my pleasure, a water-mill with its large wheel, reflected in a smooth mill pond’ and on the opposite wall ‘he had painted a peacock, perched on a tree, with its long tail hanging down.’(1) When Queen Mary was shown this painting in 1932 she recognised it from this description, having read Thirkell’s book.

Thirkell describes the paintings as inspiring her childish imagination; for example when writing about the mill she recalls that ‘there was no story about it, but a child could invent an infinite number of stories for itself.’(2) She records that they were also a source of comfort. As a punishment her nanny would often send her to ‘the fatal corner,’ a place bereft of any art, and Burne-Jones, on witnessing this lonely penitence, added a painting of ‘a cat, a kitten playing with its mother’s tail, and a flight of birds’ to the wall in this corner to provide company to his granddaughter.(3) The earlier painting of the peacock with the harmonious palette of greens and blues, the easy positioning of the peacock in the tree and its contented expression give an idea of the happy mood Burne-Jones desired to set in the nursery.

Bibliographic References

1) Thirkell, Angela, Three Houses, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931), pp.60 and 61.
2) Ibid., p.60.
3) Ibid., p.61.
Subject depicted
Accession number

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Record createdJune 13, 2007
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