The Backgammon Players

The Backgammon Players, by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. 1861-62. Watercolour on paper. Height: 535, 222 mm; width: 661, 350 mm. Presented by Lady Holder in memory of Sir John Holder, 1923. Birmingham Museum Images, © Asset Bank 2023, but identified on the BMAG (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) website as being in the public domain.

The Backgammon Players in frame

The work in its frame.

Against an attractive rose-trellis background (a typical Burne-Jones element), a couple in medieval costume are seated ta a small table, engaged in the game indicated by the title. While the man looks down, concentrating, the woman has turned her face towards the viewer, as if distracted, or just not giving her full attention to the proceedings — perhaps she is less competitive. The work has a rather interesting story attached to it, which reflects well on the artist: writing in the Art Journal of 1894, Julia Cartwright first notes the obvious influence on it of Rossetti, then tells us that it was "sold at a bazaar for the relief of the distressed Lancashire weavers, during the cotton famine of 1862" (10-11). There is a chalk drawing of the same scene in the Fitzwilliam Museum, with very fine details; it was also painted on leather on the doors of a handsome little cabinet. Being able to see it in the frame is a bonus here. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Image download, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee, with thanks to the kind person at BMAG who made the link to the cabinet doors, in an exchange on Twitter.


The Backgammon Players. Birmingham Museums. Web. 21 September 2023.

Cartwright, Julia. "The Life and Work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bart." The Art Journal Annual, Christmas 1894. Google Books. Free to read.

Created 21 September 2023