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)

Head study for 'The Sirens'

Details
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt. A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
Head study for 'The Sirens'
signed with initials and dated 'EB-J/1895+' (lower right)
pencil on paper laid on board
19 ¾ x 13 ¾ in. (50.2 x 35 cm.)
Provenance
Remaining works of the late Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bt. (†); Christie's, London, 5 June 1919, lot 25 (24 gns to Gooden & Fox).
Lord Leverhulme.
Lady Lever Art Gallery; Christie's, London, 6 June 1958, part lot 22 (38 gns to Lewis[?]).
with The Swetzoff Gallery, Boston.
Exhibited
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1899, probably no. 31.
Paris, Exposition Universelle, British Art Section, 14 April - 12 November 1900, case 4.
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
Sale room notice
Please note that it has been suggested that the sitter depicted is Olive Maxse.

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Lot Essay

The present lot is an elegant head study for The Sirens (Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida, fig. 1), a late, unfinished oil painting which, whilst originally considered in the early 1870s, was not designed until 1880, and only committed to canvas in 1891. Throughout the 1890s Burne-Jones created numerous sketches in connection with this oil, and ‘the bevy of beautiful female figures provided the need (or the excuse) for many individual head studies, all dated 1895 or 1896, which rank among his most delicate pencil drawings’ (S. Wildman and J. Christian, Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, New York, 1999, p. 321, no. 157). A very similar pencil study is held in the collection of the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Sirens was commissioned by one of Burne-Jones’s greatest patrons, Frederick Leyland (1831–1892), and in describing the work to him, the artist remarked that he didn’t wish to capture a specific mythological scene, but to depict ‘any sirens, anywhere, that lure on men to destruction’ (G. Burne-Jones, Memorials, London, 1904, p. 222). The scene is therefore not drawn directly from mythology, but is an imaginative and deeply evocative composition. The moment captured is fraught with foreboding as a ship of sailors draw into a bay, surrounded on all sides by the eponymous sirens. The discarded helmets in the foreground betray the coming fate of the sailors who have been lured to shore by these ethereal figures. Executed in dark crepuscular tones, this further imbues the scene with dread and contributes to the work as a meditation on the darker side of desire.
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