Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’s The Golden Stairs and two newly-discovered groups of related studies(Lots 15-24)This newly-discovered group from two private collections are sketches in pencil and oil by Burne-Jones for his masterpiece The Golden Stairs (fig. 1; 1880, Tate, London). Together they provide a fascinating insight into his working methods and draughtsmanship, and both groups have descended in family collections to the present owners.1872 marked one of the most productive periods in Burne-Jones’s life. Following a trip to Italy the artist returned to his studio full of inspiration and began work on many of his most important works including Sleeping Beauty, The Masque of Cupid, Chant d’Amour, Merlin and Nimuë, Love among the Ruins (sold in these Rooms on 11 July 2013 (lot 3)) and he ‘designed and made studies for a procession of girls coming down a flight of stairs [‘The Golden Stairs’].’ (Lady Burne-Jones, Memorials, London, 1906, vol. 2, p. 30). In 1875 his wife noted that ‘The large “Annunciation” and “The Golden Stairs” were also begun and many fresh designs made, so that the studio became uncomfortably crowded’ (Lady Burne-Jones, ibid., p. 68), and ‘on April 22nd [1880] I find a note of it in my diary: “The picture is finished, and so is the painter almost. He has never been so pushed for time in his life” (Lady Burne-Jones, ibid., p. 103).The Golden Stairs was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880 (no. 120) to much acclaim. F.G. Stephens, of the Athenaeum wrote that it was ‘…beyond all question the painter’s masterpiece’ (F.G. Stephens, Athenaeum, 8 May 1880, p. 605). It holds an important place in Burne-Jones’s work as in its intriguing ambiguity it is the absolute fulfilment of the Aesthetic ideal ‘Beauty for its own sake’. As with The Annunciation (1876-9, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and his famous Pygmalion Series (1875-78, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery) Burne-Jones utilised a highly-restricted palette, creating the impression of a classical frieze. A further hint towards aestheticism is the allusion to music, not only in the instruments carried by the maidens, but also in Burne-Jones’s rhythmical composition and sense of movement created as the figures meander down the staircase: ‘The feet seem to fall in rhythmic harmony, and the faces are full of breathing music’ (Times, 1 May 1880, p. 8). So ambiguous was its meaning that the artist ‘was often amused by the anxiety people had to be told what they ought to think…and many were the letters he received from different parts of the world, asking for an “explanation” of “The Golden Stairs” (Lady Burne-Jones, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 297). The ethereal figures were studied from professional models, however many of the heads are likenesses of Burne-Jones’s close friends or family. As late as the beginning of 1880 he was asking his friend George Howard to find him ‘a nice innocent damsel or two [to fill] the staircase picture’ (P. Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones, 1975, p. 183). The following girls can be identified: Margaret Burne-Jones, the artist’s daughter, at the top of the stairs (and probably again in other places according to literary sources); Frances Graham, later Lady Horner, one of Burne-Jones’s closest friends, holding cymbals at the bottom of the stairs; May Morris, daughter of William Morris, standing half-way down the stairs holding a violin; Mary Gladstone, daughter of William Gladstone, M.P., behind Frances Graham; and Mary Stuart Wortley, later Lady Lovelace, Laura Tennant, later Mrs Alfred Lyttelton, and Margot Tennant, although their exact places on the stairs have not been determined. Another figure, bending over towards the top of the stairs, has historically been identified as Edith Gellibrand, an actress who performed under the stage name Edith Chester. But new evidence has come to light, following the discovery of these pictures, that the figure was in fact modelled by Frederic, Lord Leighton’s muse Dorothy Dene.The painting was bought by Cyril Flower, Lord Battersea, for whom Burne-Jones also executed a full-scale copy of The Annunciation as a pendant. At his death in 1907 the picture was bequeathed to the Tate Gallery and formally presented to the Gallery by Lady Battersea in 1924.Two oil sketches descended in the family of Frank Chapman(Lots 15-16)These two oil sketches have descended in the family from Frank Chapman, a Victorian entrepreneur who lived at Albert Hall Mansions, London. They are accompanied by two letters written by Matthew Webb, one of Burne-Jones’s studio assistants. The letters provide fascinating new information, not only about the pictures’ provenance, but also about the identity of one of the maidens: ‘I would rather not have sold separately the oil-painted heads in question, since they both relate to the same picture (a celebrated one) & reflect interest upon each other. The ¾ face has not the personal interest of the other (the portrait of a living actress sister-in-law of a distinguished artist) but of the two from the artist’s point of view I consider it myself the better painting…I cannot forget that it is a work of one of the finest artists in Europe…If you wish for the head only of Dorothy Deane [sic.] I must ask you for £5 for it’ (M. Webb, Letter to Mr Chapman, 25 March 1892).The letter not only mentions the actress Dorothy Dene by name but also refers to ‘a living actress sister-in-law of a distinguished artist’. Dorothy, born Ada Alice Pullen, had three sisters, Edith, Hetty and Lena, all of whom became sitters for Leighton. In 1889 Edith had married Herbert Gustave Schmalz, the ‘distinguished artist’ mentioned in the letter. Dorothy became Leighton’s principal model and muse, sitting for works such as Clytie (circa 1896, Leighton House Museum, London), The Captive Andromache (circa 1888, Manchester City Art Gallery), and perhaps most significantly Flaming June (1895, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, currently on loan to Leighton House Museum, London).It has not been possible to identify for certain the sitter for the other head study (lot 16), but it is believed to be Mary Stuart Wortley, later Countess of Lovelace (1848-1941). The daughter of Rt Hon. James Archbald Stuart-Wortley, in 1880 she married Ralph King-Milbanke, 2nd Earl of Lovelace. It is thought that she met Burne-Jones through the artist Edward Poynter, Burne-Jones’s brother-in-law. Poynter was also a close friend of John Everett Millais, from whom Mary’s brother Archie received training. Another brother, Charlie, married Millais's daughter Alice. Mary studied at the Slade School of Art, and she went on to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery, New Gallery and Manchester City Art Gallery. Her correspondence with Burne-Jones, begun in 1875, shows the closeness that had developed by the time he would have been looking for models for The Golden Stairs. He provided her with both guidance and friendship: ‘Come and have tea with me, will you? Can you on Wednesday and you shall see my Annunciation – it is the only day I can show it to you, for on Thursday it goes away’ (Letter of 1879 cited in A. Anderson, ‘A Golden Girl: Burne-Jones and Mary Stuart Wortley’, Journal of the William Morris Society, 13(1): 65-71, Autumn 1998, p. 68).A group of studies descended in the family of Sir George and Lady Lewis(Lots 17-24)This interesting group of studies have descended in the Lewis family from Sir George Lewis (1833-1911), one of the most eminent solicitors of the late 19th Century whose second wife became a close friend of Burne-Jones’s. Born in 1833, the same year as Burne-Jones, Lewis though a genial, kindly man, earned a reputation for exceptional shrewdness and ability, and in 1893 he was given a knighthood by William Gladstone. At the Coronation of 1902 he was created a baronet by a King who had good reason to be grateful for his services. Lewis married twice. His first wife, with whom he had one daughter, Alice, died in 1865 and two years later he married Elizabeth Eberstadt (1844-1931), the third of five daughters of Ferdinand Eberstadt of Mannheim. Elizabeth came from a highly cultured background and was passionately devoted to the arts. George, whose work often brought him into contact with the stage, shared her aesthetic interests, while his growing success and rapidly expanding income gave her the scope to indulge them. The Lewises were already entertaining artists during the early years of their marriage, but it was when they moved to 88 Portland Place in 1876 that Elizabeth's career as a hostess took wing, and she was able to launch a salon on a grand scale. Famous musicians and actors gladly took part in the Lewis's entertainments, and Sargent executed portraits of George and Elizabeth. But by far the closest of these artistic friendships was with Burne-Jones, his wife and children. How and when the two families met is unclear, but they were on intimate terms by the late 1870s, and from then on the artist was a frequent visitor to Portland Place and Ashley Cottage, the Lewis's country retreat at Walton-on-Thames. The couple had three children: George, born in 1868, who was to take over the firm and inherit the baronetcy; Gertrude (or Gertie), born in 1871, and Katherine (Katie), born in 1878. Burne-Jones painted both girls’ portraits; that of Katie was sold in these Rooms on 14 June 2000 (lot 20), and that of Gertie was sold in these Rooms on 12 December 2013 (lot 55). See lot 42 for a portrait of Lady Lewis.We are grateful to Dr Anne Anderson for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)

Head study of Dorothy Dene looking downwards, for 'The Golden Stairs'

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
Head study of Dorothy Dene looking downwards, for 'The Golden Stairs'
indistinctly inscribed 'this not to be stained(?)' (lower right)
oil on canvas
17 x 12 ¾ in. (43.2 x 32.4 cm.)
with Matthew Webb, Burne-Jones's studio assistant, until March 1892, from whom purchased by Frank Chapman, the great-grandfather of the present owner, and by descent.
Sale room notice
This painting is to be offered with two letters address to Mr Frank Chapman from Matthew Webb, Burne-Jones's studio assistant.

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

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