Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more FROM A DISTINGUISHED SWISS COLLECTION
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)

The Altar of Hymen

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
The Altar of Hymen
signed with initials 'E.B.J.' (lower right) and inscribed 'AM/FEB XXVI/MDCCCLXXIV' (within a cartouche on the altar)
pencil and watercolour heightened with gold and silver and bodycolour, on vellum laid down on paper and canvas
14 5/8 x 10 ½ in. (37 x 26.7 cm.)
Given to Amy Graham, daughter of William Graham, on her marriage to Kenneth Muir-Mackenzie in 1874 and by descent to
Sir Kenneth Muir-Mackenzie, K.C.B. (1845-1930).
The Hon. Mrs Mark Hambourg; Sotheby’s, Belgravia, 20 June 1972, lot 65.
with Hartnoll & Eyre, London (their Catalogue Twenty-five), 1972, no. 8.
Burne-Jones’s autograph work record (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), under 1874.
The Work of Edward Burne-Jones: Ninety-one Photogravures directly reproduced from the Original Paintings, London, 1901, p. 28, no. 89.
F. De Lisle, Burne-Jones, London, 1904, pp. 91.
M. Harrison and B. Waters, Burne-Jones, London, 1973, p. 116, fig. 166.
C. Sonderegger, ‘Allegories of Time’ in Myths and Mysteries: Symbolism and Swiss Artists, Kunstmuseum, Bern, and Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Lugano, exh. 2013-14, cat. pp. 270, 277, no. 192 (illustrated).
London, New Gallery, Exhibition of the Works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bart, 1898-9, no. 25.
Bern, Kunstmuseum, and Lugano, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Myths and Mysteries: Symbolism and Swiss Artists, 2013-4, no. 192.
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Lot Essay

The sculptor Pygmalion is seen embracing his bride, Galatea, in the temple of Venus. The goddess sits to the right, her son Cupid standing between her knees, while to the left is a small altar on which leaves, a votive offering, are consumed by flames.

The composition is based on one of the illustrations to William Morris’s poem 'Pygmalion and the Image’ that Burne-Jones made in 1867. The poem was part of Morris’s great narrative cycle The Earthly Paradise, which he originally intended to publish with numerous woodcut illustrations designed by Burne-Jones. The scheme proved too ambitious and the book appeared with virtually no illustrations in 1868-70, but the designs provided Burne-Jones with a bank of compositional ideas on which he was to draw for easel pictures for years to come.

The picture was painted by Burne-Jones as a wedding present when Amy Graham, one of the six daughters of his patron William Graham, married Kenneth Muir-Mackenzie in 1874. A wealthy Scottish merchant and at one time Liberal member of parliament for Glasgow, Graham was Burne-Jones’s most consistent and sympathetic patron from the early 1860s until his (Graham’s) death in 1885. Fifteen years younger than Burne-Jones, he had a real feeling for paintings, as Gladstone, his political leader, recognised when he made him a trustee of the National Gallery. He not only admired and bought the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly Rossetti and Burne-Jones, but that of the early Italian masters, a taste, of course, that Burne-Jones himself shared.

Nor was the bond confined to one generation. Burne-Jones was also close to Graham’s older daughters, especially Frances. Indeed, of all the young women with whom he formed sentimental but platonic relationships in later life, she was the most important. She often modelled for him, he showered her with examples of his work as presents, and their friendship was vital to his influence on the social set known as The Souls, of which she was a leading light.

All this would have ensured that Burne-Jones took great trouble over Amy Graham’s wedding present. After all, there was a sense in which it had to appeal not only to the girl herself but to her father and other members of her family, an audience highly appreciative but far from uncritical.

A second version of the composition was sold in these Rooms on 12 December 2013, lot 4. Similar in scale and technique to the present picture, it was almost certainly later and there were slight variations of design. In the version sold in December the colours are a little darker, decorative panels appear on the wall of the temple behind the lovers, and a small spray of foliage has been dropped on the floor to Pygmalion’s right. Most important of all, the relationship of the lovers lacks some of the emotional intensity that is so well conveyed in the present, primary, version.

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