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Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
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Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)

The Pilgrim at the Garden of Idleness: an illustration to Chaucer's 'Romance of the Rose'

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
The Pilgrim at the Garden of Idleness: an illustration to Chaucer's 'Romance of the Rose'
inscribed with the names of the Vices: 'HATE', 'FELONY', 'VILANY', 'COVETISE', 'AVARICE', 'ENVY', 'SORROW', 'ELDE', 'HYPOCRISY', 'POVERTY' (on the pedestals of the statues)
pencil, pen and brown ink, watercolour and bodycolour with gum arabic, on two sheets of paper
12? x 36? in. (30.8 x 91.7 cm.); and 12? x 47¾ in. (32 x 121.3 cm.)
The smaller drawing:
Seen hanging in the artist's London house, The Grange, in a photograph of circa 1890 (Dorment, loc. cit.).
The artist's daughter, Mrs J.W. Mackail, and by descent to her granddaughter, Mrs David Yorke (+); Christie's, London, 22 March 1985, lot 86.
The larger drawing:
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Belgravia, 7 October 1980, lot 36.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 21 June 1985, lot 95.
Possibly Burne-Jones's autograph work-record (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) under 1875 ('Ten vices for the Romance of the Rose').
F. De Lisle, Burne-Jones, London, 1904, p. 114.
R. Dorment, 'Burne-Jones's Roman Mosaics', Burlington Magazine, vol. 120, no. 899, February 1978, p. 79, fig. 29.
Edward Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer,exh. Metropolitan Museum, New York, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, and Musée d'Orsay, Paris, 1998-9, cat. p. 180, note 2, as unfinished oil paintings.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Pre-Raphaelites and Olympians, 2001.
Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Masterworks of Victorian Art, 2008.
Springville, Utah, Springville Museum of Art, Victorian and European Art, 2009-2010.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Victorian Visions, 2010, no. 17.
London, Leighton House, Victorian Visions, 2012, no. 13.
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Bernice Owusu
Bernice Owusu

Lot Essay

In 1874 Burne-Jones and William Morris designed a needlework frieze illustrating Chaucer's Romance of the Rose; it was to hang round the upper walls of the dining-room at Rounton Grange, Northallerton, a house commissioned from Philip Webb two years earlier by the Tyneside ironmaster and metallurgist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell. The frieze was worked by Sir Lowthian's wife, Margaret, and daughter, Florence, both of whom were experienced needlewomen. It was completed in 1882 and can be seen in situ in a photograph reproduced in the catalogue of the William Morris Exhibition mounted by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1996, p. 143. The room was later dismantled but the frieze survives in the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow. Two panels were included in the V&A exhibition, and the catalogue gives details of payments to Burne-Jones and other information.

The Romance of the Rose, one of the most popular secular texts in medieval literature, is an allegory embodying the conventions of courtly love. The poet seeks his beloved, who takes the form of a rose in a beautiful garden, only gaining her after many trials and tribulations. In the present pair of watercolours he is seen encountering figures of the Vices represented by free-standing bronze sculptures set in niches along the exterior wall of the garden of Idleness. The designs relate to the portion of the needlework frieze that was placed above the fireplace in the dining-room at Rounton Grange, but their exact status is unclear. Were they intended as guides for the needlewomen, indicating colour and tone, or were they small independent works merely based on the embroidery designs? Perhaps they were both. In any event, they remained in Burne-Jones's possession, appearing in photographs of the interior of The Grange, his house in Fulham, and descending in his family until the 1980s.

Large oil versions of both watercolours exist; each dates from about 1877, seems to be partly by assistants, and remains unfinished. The one repeating the larger of the two designs (with six allegorical figures) is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the other in a private collection. Both the large versions alter the compositions significantly. One drops one of the figures of the Vices, the other two, at the same time rearranging their order. The deer in the watercolours disappear in the oils, but in the V&A painting the olive bushes that sprout tentatively in the watercolours have become full-grown trees, their swirling leafless branches dominating the design. There are also changes to the architecture and other details.

These are not the only large easel paintings that Burne-Jones developed from the Rounton Grange needlework designs. Other parts of the scheme proved equally fertile, spawning, for example, the well-known Love leading the Pilgrim (Tate Britain). Begun in 1877, this was finally completed twenty years later when it appeared at the New Gallery as his last major exhibited picture.

The Italianate architecture seen in our two watercolours betrays the influence of Burne-Jones's last visits to Italy in 1871 and 1873 – as indeed do the olive trees. The coloured marbles that feature so prominently may well have been found at Farmer and Brindley's works in Westminster Bridge Road. Certainly in the early 1890s Burne-Jones was visiting their yard to make ‘the closest study' of their treasures when he wanted to paint marble in his late masterpiece Arthur in Avalon (Ponce, Puerto Rico).

Burne-Jones returned to the subject of the watercolours in his illustrations to the edition of Chaucer's works that was the crowning achievement of the Kelmscott Press (1896). There, however, he showed the allegorical figures not as bronze statues but as painted on the walls. Writing of these designs at the time, he said, ‘I wish Chaucer would once for all make up his unrivalled and precious mind whether he is talking of a picture or a statue'.

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