The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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William Burges, 1827-1881

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1827.12.02
Place of Birth: London
Date of Death: 1881.04.20
Place of Death: Kensington, London


William Burges was a Gothic Revivalist architect and designer. He was the eldest son of Alfred Burges, a prosperous marine engineer and partner of James Walker, who carried out military and civil government projects.


Burges received his education at King's College School, London, from 1839, where he was a contemporary of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and where he studied under John Sell Cotman. In 1843 he began to study engineering, but left to work in the office of the surveyor Edward Blore. There he worked on the restoration of Westminster Abbey. In 1849 he joined the office of Matthew Digby Wyatt, the Special Commissioner and Secretary to the Great Exhibition of 1851, and contributed to the official record of the exhibition, The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols (1851-1853).

In 1851 Burges began working for Henry Clutton on his Remarks with Illustrations on the Domestic Architecture of France (1853) and on various ecclesiastical and domestic commissions, including the restoration of the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral (1854-1856). In 1855 Burges became Clutton's partner and won a competition for Lille Cathedral, although the project came to nothing. In 1856 their partnership broke up.

Burges was deeply influenced by the work of A. W. N. Pugin and in the 1860s, by Islamic and oriental design. He made regular study trips in Britain and Europe, copying the medieval monuments he saw. At the International Exhibition of 1862 he was responsible for the laying out of the Medieval Court.

In the 1860s and 1870s Burges worked on a prestigious commission at Cardiff Castle for John Patrick Crichton Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. He demolished or completely re-designed the earlier work of Holland and Smirke, giving the castle a dramatic exterior with towers, pinnacles and crenellations, and sumptous interiors. Burges's working practice formed an interesting precursor to that of the architects of the Aesthetic Movement in that he sought to control every aspect of his architectural commissions, designing elaborate decorative schemes in wood, stone, metal, paint and marble to adorn the interiors and exteriors of his buildings.

Burges was friendly with the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, William Morris and their circle.


Burges, William, Art Applied to Industry, Oxford, 1865; Burges, W., 'Art and Religion', The Church and the World: Essays on Questions of the Day, ed. O. Shipley, London, 1868, pp. 574-98; Burges, W., Architectural Drawings, London, 1870; Crook, J. M., William Burges and the High Victorian Dream, London, 1981; Crook, J. M., The Strange Genius of William Burges, 'Art-Architect', 1827-1881, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 1981; Prout, David, 'William Burges', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 1 August 2002).