Thanks to a generous gift from the sculptor Michael Wade, the Burgess Foundation has become the owner of a death mask of Anthony Burgess.
The white plaster cast of Burgess’s face, ears and neck was taken shortly after his death at the request of his widow Liana Burgess. Correspondence in our archive sheds light on the history of this unique object.
Liana commissioned Michael Wade to create casts in plaster of Burgess’s hands and face in November 1993. Although the hand casts were accepted by Liana – and already form part of the Burgess Foundation’s collection – Michael Wade recalls her firm rejection of his mask:
‘She cursed the funeral directors for giving him a flimsy smile and handed me back my work refusing to set eyes on it. ‘It is not him’ is all she could say, as I slowly retreated from the scene.’
Liana’s motivations for wishing to commemorate her husband in this particular way are not known. It may be that such objects formed part of her cultural heritage, perhaps she felt that they would be a particularly fitting memorial to her husband given that other artists whom Burgess admired and drew inspiration from had been commemorated in this way, such as James Joyce and John Keats.
The death mask and hand casts are only two of a number of ways in which Liana sought to preserve her husband’s memory. During Burgess’s lifetime, Liana was a fierce advocate of his work and defender of his interests, and it is thanks largely to her care and attention that such a complete and intimate record of Burgess’s life and work has survived, and is preserved today in the Burgess Foundation’s archive and in other collections around the world. Examples of torn and crumpled typescripts in the collection are testimony to the items Liana is said to have rescued from waste paper bins, conscious of their importance in preserving a record of her husband’s creative process. Her determination to support future scholarship and art by facilitating engagement with Burgess’s work underpinned her decision to establish the International Anthony Burgess Foundation itself in 2003, and also her many donations to other institutions such as the Anthony Burgess Centre at the University of Angers, France.
We are very pleased to be able to add this memorial to Burgess to our collection.