The model for this beguiling portrait is probably Annie Keene (1843-1901), who posed regularly for Burne-Jones: she was the original model for Nimue in The Beguiling of Merlin (1874-1877, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) before being supplanted by Maria Zambaco in the finished painting. Keene is best known for sitting to the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, appearing as The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty and Lady Clara Vere de Vere (both 1866) in her early twenties. Facially there is little change in her appearance between Cameron's photographs and Burne-Jones' portrait drawing of over twenty years later.
Her four daughters also became artists' models and sat for Burne-Jones. Jessie (b. 1872) sat for one of the singing boys in the background of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid (1884, Tate, London): a study is now in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Bessie (b. 1878/9) also sat for Vespertina Quies (1893, Tate, London) and Love Among the Ruins (sold in these Rooms, 11 July 2013, lot 3).
Two other studies of Annie from 1890 are known: one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1975.1.879, formerly Robert Lehman collection), and the other at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (1931P62). The latter has been identified as a study for the angel in The Star of Bethlehem.
In 1890 Burne-Jones was working on a number of major projects including The Star of Bethlehem (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), The Holy Grail Tapestries, and The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon (Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico), and whilst it is possible that the drawing relates to one of these, it does not appear to do so and was seemingly intended as a portrait study. The drawing was reproduced as a platinotype by Frederick Hollyer (1838-1933), and a copy is held in an album of Hollyer images in the Courtauld Institute. Whilst others in the albums are described by the title of the picture or decorative scheme they were designed for, the present drawing is listed simply as Study of a girl's head, suggesting that it was intended as a finished work in its own right.
We are grateful to Scott Thomas Buckle for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.