Louis Fairfax Muckley (he himself hyphenated the last two names) was one of the group of young artists who came to prominence in Birmingham in the 1890s as a late local offshoot of the Pre-Raphaelite movement; he appears as such in Percy Bate's book The English Pre-Raphaelite Painters (1899), together with J.E. Southall, Arthur Gaskin, C.M. Gere and others. The group was particularly influenced by Burne-Jones, a native of the city who accepted the Presidency of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1885 and took a keen interest in the Municipal School of Art and the new City Art Gallery. According to a short account of his early career published anonymously in the Studio in 1894 (op.cit.), Muckley entered the school 'when nineteen years of age' - that is to say in 1881 or 1882 - 'and studied there for six or seven years'. It therefore seems likely that he met Burne-Jones when the great man visited the School in October 1885 to criticise the work of the students and offer informal advice. Such may indeed be the meaning of a further comment in the Studio article: 'While still a student his work attracted the attention of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Mr W.B. Richmond, R.A., and others. Both by their addresses and their individual counsel he received much help'. Whatever the case, Muckley would certainly have known the examples of Burne-Jones's work that appeared in Birmingham during the next few years, namely the four enormous stained-glass windows erected in the Cathedral 1885-97, and the equally colossal watercolour The Star of Bethlehem, commissioned by the Corporation for the Art Gallery and completed in 1891. He is also said to have been a student of the early Italian pictures in the National Gallery. 'During his student days at Birmingham he made it a rule to spend yearly at least one whole week in London,...imbibing the spirit of those early pictures'.
The Muckleys came from Audnam in Worcestershire, and Louis was born there on 26 July 1862, the son of Josiah Muckley, a glass-engraver. They must have been related to William Jabez Muckley (1829(not 1837 as usually stated)-1905), a versatile figure who also practised as a glass-engraver, but in addition was an accomplished painter of flowers and genre subjects and served successively as headmaster of Burslem, Wolverhampton and Manchester Schools of Art. He exhibited for many years at the Royal Academy, and the fact that in 1873 the catalogue gives his address as Fairfax House, Withington, Manchester, suggests that Fairfax was a family name, suitable for either child or domicile. Angelo Fairfax Muckley, who exhibited three pictures at the Royal Academy between 1889 and 1895, must have been yet another member of the clan, and not only an account of his name. His last RA exhibit was a portrait of William Jabez, and in 1889 he was living at Addison Studios, Blythe Road, London W, an address that William Jabez had used when exhibiting two years earlier. Louis Fairfax Muckley is recorded living in Stourbridge (1890), Chelsea (1901) and Stratford-on-Avon, where he died on 18 March 1926 at the age of sixty-three.
Like so many Birmingham artists of this period, Louis Fairfax Muckley embraced the Arts and Crafts ideal. In addition to painting pictures, he illuminated manuscripts and illustrated books, and it would not be surprising to discover that he designed metalwork or stained glass. He showed five works at the Royal Academy between 1890 and 1914, and their titles alone - The Weird Lady, A Sainted Maiden, Daphne, etc - confirm his adherence to the Burne-Jones tradition. Like Burne-Jones himself and so many of his friends and followers, he also showed at the New Gallery, which succeeded the Grosvenor Gallery as the stronghold of 'aestheticism' in 1888. In 1889 he exhibited two pictures there, the present one and a companionpiece, Spring, personified by a draped female figure holding a trumpet. Both works are illustrated in Henry Blackburn's New Gallery Notes.
The two pictures look back to the series of six large watercolours - Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (private collection), Day and Night (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, Mass.) - which Burne-Jones had painted for the Liverpool shipowner F.R. Leyland in 1869-71, and which subsequently adorned the famous 'aesthetic' interior which Leyland created at 49 Prince's Gate in London. Burne-Jones's Autumn is a matronly woman while Muckley's is a youth clad in light Grecian drapery, but the way in which the younger artist places his figure in a niche with foliage and flowers below is very similar to the formula adopted by Burne-Jones for all four of his Seasons. If the composition also recalls Albert Moore, that is hardly surprising, since Burne-Jones's Seasons are in the Moore-like idiom which he explored in the late 1860s. Moore himself had exhibited a design of The Four Seasons at the Royal Academy in 1864.
Louis Fairfax Muckley was never a prolific artist and his paintings are now extremely rare; in fact Autumn is the only one in his Witt Library file. For other examples of his work we have to turn to the two books he illustrated, R.D. Blackmore's Fringilla: Some Tales in Verse (1896) and Spenser's Faerie Queene (1897) - the latter published by Dent as a sequel to Beardsley's Morte d'Arthur (1893-4) and a rival to Walter Crane's Faerie Queene (George Allen) of 1894-7. Seven of Muckley's drawings and illustrations are reproduced in the Studio article, and a drawing appears in the second edition of Joseph Pennell's Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen, published the same year. An illustration is reproduced in Alan Crawford (ed.), By Hammer and Hand: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Birmingham, 1984, p.95, fig. 73 (b).
We are grateful for help in compiling this entry to Roger Dodsworth, Keeper of Glass and Fine Art at the Dudley Art Gallery; Stephen Wildman, Deputy Keeper of Fine Art at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; and the unknown researcher who deposited copies of Louis Fairfax Muckley's birth and death certificates in the Witt Library.