Edward Burne-Jones, Angel in the Wave

Photo courtesy of Caroline True (All rights reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Angel in the Wave
? c.mid-1890s
Medium and support
Fresco secco
Overall height: 101 cm, Overall width: 78 cm
Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Catalogue Number


In the 1880s, Edward Burne-Jones and his wife, Georgiana, bought two neighbouring properties in the coastal village of Rottingdean, West Sussex. They employed the architect William Benson to refurbish the properties and join them together to form one house, which they renamed North End House, after their west London residence. There, they spent holidays and weekends entertaining their children and grandchildren. Among the grandchildren was Edward Burne-Jones’s favourite, Angela, born in 1890, who was in later life recognised in her own right as the novelist Angela Thirkell. As she later recalled, Burne-Jones painted the figure of the angel into the wall of the attic, where the children slept: 

When I woke up in the morning at North End House the first thing I saw was an angel, pulling away the curtain of darkness to let the daylight. It was painted on the whitewashed wall at the foot of my bed in our little attic night-nursery by my adoring grandfather. How it survived the stormy life of a night-nursery where soap and sponges are freely thrown about and to scribble on the wall is the obvious duty of any spirited child, I can’t imagine, but it did for some twenty-five years.1 

In 1920 North End House was purchased by the artist William Nicholson, who lived there for three years. As Thirkell recalled, Nicholson ‘removed the angel piecemeal from the wall and gave the fragments to Frances Horner . . . She had the angel mended and framed and now it looks down on her home in Somerset where the artist would like it to be’.2 Frances, herself, also mentioned the picture in an account she wrote,  probably in the 1930s, of the contents of Mells, at which time it hung in her bedroom: ‘the frescoe [sic] over the bed head was painted by Sir E. Burne Jones on the walls of his nursery at Rottingdean, removed from there and given to Lady Horner by Mr. W. Nicholson’.3 

Nicholson, a friend of Frances (1854–1940), also painted a number of pictures of Mells (MM85, MM86), as well as designing the stained-glass window in memory of her husband, Sir John Horner (1842–1927), in the parish church of St Andrew.

by Martin Postle


  1. Angela Thirkell, Three Houses, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950, 6th impression, pp. 59–60.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Frances Horner, ‘Concerning Mells Manor House and its Contents’, bound typescript, n.p., Mells Manor Archive, D/08/0627. Although the typescript is undated, it must have been composed some time during the 1930s since Lady Horner (1885–1940) mentions that in 1931 the south window in the Book Room had been lowered.


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