This painting was conceived at a time when Burne-Jones was deeply influenced by his travels in Italy. Returning home to London in 1872, he was inspired to set out a program of ambitious new works. Writing in 1904, his widow, Georgiana Burne-Jones, described how the painting had its origins in one such scheme: ‘[it] is a fulfilment of part of Edward's intention to paint the Beginning of the World. He first called it "The Youth of Pan" ' (G. Bume-Jones, Memorials of Edward, Burne-Jones (1904), vol. II, London, 1993, p. 174).

The artist’s original idea was more complex and grand in scale than this painting would suggest. He initially planned to include 'the beginning of the world, with Pan and Echo and sylvan gods, and a forest full of centaurs, and a wild background of woods, mountains, and rivers'. (G. Bume-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones (1904), vol. I, London, 1993, p. 308). In the finished work there are just three figures in a twilight setting. The image is coloured by the artist's love of the Italian Renaissance. Although Burne-Jones did not travel to Italy after 1872, he saw numerous Renaissance pictures in public and private collections in Britain.

Burne-Jones's interest in the Renaissance was not only visual, however, for he was also a scholar of literature and mythography. During the 1860s and 1870s both he and Morris became interested in the transformation of stories that had filtered down from Persian and Greek sources to reappear in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The deity Pan was the type of migratory figure that appealed to these artists. Pan had appeared in various forms throughout the centuries, ranging from 'the good shepherd' to demonic goat-legged creatures.

In this image, Pan is a beautiful, slender youth; as he plays, the kingfisher and dragonflies — creatures known for their darting speed — stop to listen to the sweet sound. Another characteristic of Burne-Jones's work is his inclusion of elements such as doorways, rock portals or water, which act as boundaries between different states of being. In this painting a bend in the river divides the young god from his listeners, separating the natural and supernatural worlds.

Text by Jennifer Long from European Masterpieces: six centuries of paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2000, p. 168.


  • Title: The garden of Pan
  • Creator: Edward Burne-Jones
  • Creator Lifespan: 28 August 1833 - 17 June 1898
  • Creator Nationality: English
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London, England
  • Creator Birth Place: Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
  • Date Created: (1886-1887)
  • Physical Dimensions: 152.5 x 186.9 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1919, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Provenance: Exhibited Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1887; collection of Lillian, Duchess of Marlborough, by 1892–1918; included in her sale, Christie's London, 10 May 1918, no. 95; from where purchased, on the advice of Robert Ross, for the Felton Bequest, 1918.
  • Biography: In the summer of 1855, Edward Burne-Jones and his friend William Morris (1834–1896) were so inspired by their tour of the cathedrals of northern France that they abandoned their studies at Oxford for a life of art. The young Burne-Jones soon made his name as a painter of oils and watercolours and as a designer for the firm of Morris and Company. He often combined a number of sources, interweaving medieval and classical or Renaissance imagery to create subjects located in an indeterminate time and space. Burne-Jones's paintings are known for their rich, sombre colour scheme and for the uneasy, dreamlike state that characterizes his figures.
  • Additional information: The painting was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 1887 and was enthusiastically received. The critic for the Athenaeum wrote at the time: 'In poetic suggestiveness "The Garden of Pan" is second to none of his works' (Athenaeum, 7 May 1887, p. 613).

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps