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

The Guardian Angel

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
The Guardian Angel
pencil, watercolour and bodycolour, heightened with gold on paper
17 ¼ x 10 ½ in. (43.9 x 26.7 cm)
in the original mount and frame
The artist, by whom given to his daughter,
Margaret Mackail (1866-1953), and by descent to her daughter,
Angela Margaret Thirkell (née Mackail) (1890-1966), and by descent to her son,
Graham Campbell McInnes (1912-1970), and by descent to his daughter.
G. Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, London, 1904, p. 66.
London, Hayward Gallery; Southampton, Southampton City Art Gallery; and Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, The Arts Council of Great Britain, Edward Burne-Jones, 5 November 1975 - 11 April 1976, no. 315.

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Lot Essay

This beautiful watercolour by Burne-Jones was painted for his daughter Margaret circa 1876, and is a stand-alone work in his œuvre; never developed into a larger arrangement. Georgiana Burne-Jones described the composition in her Memorials as a girl walking ‘hand in hand with an angel, who leans from the sky to reach her without doing any violence to reason’ (G. Burne-Jones, op. cit., p. 66). Georgiana also touches on the possible source of inspiration for this work, pointing to her husband’s correspondence from the same year to the Graham family where he describes Botticelli’s Coronation of the Virgin, as showing heaven and earth ‘just as they are – heaven beginning six inches over the tops of our heads’ (ibid., p. 64.) Burne-Jones also explored this idea in his major work The Annunciation (fig. 1), began in the same year (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool) which features a similar compositional arrangement. The proximity of the divine to the quotidian can certainly be evinced through the clear communion between the two figures, connected through their entwined hands.
The central figure appears stranded in a barren and rocky landscape, but shows no fear as she is led by the titular guardian angel, who leans down towards her over a ghostlike crenellated wall. The girl's other hand rests on her heart, indicative of the faith she has in the angel to guide her safely. She appears to be dressed in a very simple white nightgown, which adds a dreamscape element to the composition, and her head is tilted up towards the angel, showing an expression of serenity. The angel is dressed simply in blue, more humbly attired than many of the artist’s other depictions of angels, which further underscores Burne-Jones's desire to bring the heavenly down to earth. Despite the simplicity of the robes and the sparseness of the landscape, the angel’s great white wings and the touches of gold scattered throughout elevate this sweet scene to the heavenly.

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