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

Courtesie and Fraunchise (Courtesy and Frankness) in the Garden of Idleness

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
Courtesie and Fraunchise (Courtesy and Frankness) in the Garden of Idleness
signed with initials 'EBJ' and dated '1874' (lower right) and inscribed 'COURTESIE AND FRAUNCHISE' (upper left and upper right respectively) and further inscribed 'THE G../ID.../Courtesy.... a' (on a fragmentary label attached to the backboard)
pencil and black and ochre chalk on two joined sheets of paper
35 x 34.5 in. (88.9 x 87.5 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 19 March 1979, lot 10.
British Rail Pension Fund; Sotheby's, London, 19 June 1990, lot 34.
Art Journal, 1881, illustrated facing p. 184.
M. Wood, Drawings of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, London, 1907, pl. 4.
P. Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones: A Biography, London, 1975, p. 145.
Dublin, Irish International Exhibition, 1907.
Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, on loan from the British Rail Pension Fund, before 1990.

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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.

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 or pilgrim seeks his beloved, who takes the form of a rose in a beautiful garden, only gaining her after many trials and tribulations. It was not only a theme after Burne-Jones's heart - complex, recondite and scholarly, yet rich in emotional nuance - but one that gained lustre from association, being the subject of one of his favourite illuminated manuscripts. A magnificent folio in the British Library, produced at Bruges in the late fifteenth century, Harley 4425 was already familiar to him by April 1860, when he showed it to a group of friends. One of them was the landscape painter G.P. Boyce, who recorded in his diary how Burne-Jones, very much playing the expert and cicerone, ordered up for them 'some of the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts in the collection. First the "Roman de la Rose"...'

On 12 December 2013 (lot 54) Christie's sold two studies for a major part of the Rounton Grange project, the scene in which the pilgrim stands outside the Garden of Idleness, contemplating the bronze statues of Vices set into niches on the walls. The corresponding needlework occupied a central position in the Bells' dining-room, being placed above a massive fireplace. The present drawing relates to a different subject, represented on one of the lateral walls; the pilgrim is now inside the garden, greeted by Courtesy, Frankness and other pairs of Virtues, living figures this time who will guide him on his way to union with his beloved. The embroidery worked from this design is illustrated in Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, the catalogue of the Burne-Jones centenary exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1989, pp. 180-181.

Burne-Jones made numerous studies for the Rounton Grange scheme, and, as often happened when he identified closely with a subject, tended to give them semi-independent status. They were both aids to the needlewomen and highly finished works of art in themselves. Some were given backgrounds that do not appear in the needlework while many remained in his possession, the Bells, or whoever drew out the designs on the linen support, working from photographs. The drawings sold last December had this autonomous character; elaborately worked in bodycolour, they were to all intents and purposes small easel pictures.

The present drawing belongs to a group that is equally independent but different in conception, being on a much larger scale and in pencil. Three of these studies, all dating from 1874, show the pairs of Virtues that the pilgrim encounters in the garden. Courtesie and Fraunchise and Largesse and Richesse remained together until 19 June 1990, when they were separated at the British Rail Pension Fund sale at Sotheby's. Love and Beauty appeared at Sotheby's on 30 March 1994, lot 196. Both Largesse and Richesse and Love and Beauty are illustrated in the New York catalogue, p. 181.

Of other drawings in this group, one is particularly remarkable and deserving of mention: a design of Love leading the Pilgrim (private collection; New York exhibition, no. 75, illus. cat. p. 183). Dating from 1876-7 and thus a little later than Courtesie and Fraunchise and its companions, the concept was to be reworked as a large oil painting (Tate Britain), begun in 1877 and completed twenty years later in the artist's final and most ethereal manner. In fact it was his last major exhibition picture.

All these drawings are of the highest quality and among Burne-Jones's most exquisite productions. Certainly they epitomise two salient features of his style, his love of drawing, a form of expression that came much more naturally to him than painting, and his closely related passion for linear invention. Like so much of his work in the 1870s, they show him at his most Italianate. This was the period when he paid his last two visits to Italy (1871 and 1873), filling his sketchbooks with copies, and eagerly collected photographs of Italian Renaissance paintings he found inspiring (now in University College, London); and since he was the most self-aware and deliberate of artists, there are often fascinating correspondences between his work and this source material, or simply with the frequent references to Italian art that occur in his letters. The present drawing is a case in point, reminding us of a passage in a letter he wrote in 1871 to his American friend Charles Eliot Norton, who was travelling in Italy and buying photographs on his behalf. 'You know what I like', he instructed him, 'all helpful pieces of modelling and sweet head-drawing...I like the Florentine men more than all others....If Ghirlandaio draws sweet girls running and their dresses blown about, O please not to let me lose one'.

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