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 Finding of Medusa

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa
pencil on paper
6 5/8 x 5 ¾ in. (17 x 14.6 cm.)
with Agnew's, London, where purchased by the present owners.
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Lot Essay

The present drawing is a study for the Finding of Medusa, the fourth painting in a series of paintings entitled The Perseus Cycle, which drew upon the version of the legend of Perseus that appeared in William Morris' 'The Doom of King Acrisius', from The Earthly Paradise (first published in 1870).

"...a third woman paced about the hall,
And ever turned her head from wall to wall
And moaned aloud, and shrieked in her despair;
Because the golden tresses of her hair
Were moved by writhing snakes from side to side,
That in their writhing oftentimes would glide
On to her breast, or shuddering shoulders white;"

In 1875, Arthur Balfour commissioned Burne-Jones to design a series of paintings for his principal drawing room which as Balfour recorded, 'was as London drawing-rooms go, long and well-lit, and the happy thought occurred to me to ask my new friend to design for it a series of pictures characteristic of his art...The subject I left entirely to him. The choice of the Perseus legend was therefore not mine, but I have never regretted it'. Burne-Jones initially devised a sequence of ten (later reduced to eight) subjects mapped out in three large designs, showing their placement within Morris' acanthus wallpaper decorative borders.

Apart from drawing on William Morris for his inspiration, the artist also spent time at the British Museum looking at treatments of the subject on Greek Attic vases. Burne-Jones executed numerous preparatory drawings for the scheme, including small scale studies showing the entire scheme as he conceived it (Tate Britain) as well as full-scale cartoons (now in Southampton City Art Gallery, fig. 1). Only four designs in oil, all of which are now in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, were completed, along with two further unfinished canvases.

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