Gillian Darley

After Pugin

William Burges and the High Victorian Dream


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In 1981 J Mordaunt Crook published the definitive book on William Burges. It had an unusual history. The collector and art historian Charles Handley-Read had become obsessed, from the early 1960s onwards, with the work of William Burges; along with his wife Lavinia, a specialist on Victorian sculpture, he began to amass a treasure house of furniture and artefacts. He was, as Mordaunt Crook puts it, ‘a museum man manqué’, drawing up legion lists but never reaching any historical conclusion or offering a formed opinion of his own. Even the maelstrom of notes he made, on Burges in particular, was in no form to shape even the barest skeleton of a monograph on the architect.

In a poignant ‘prelude’ to the current edition, Mordaunt Crook describes Handley-Read’s struggle to turn even a complete paragraph to his own satisfaction; the achievement of a single sentence was torture and he worked in a ‘labyrinth of indecision’, making the completion of an article the rarest of events. In his lifetime he published just 18.

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