This interesting and hitherto unpublished drawing is a study for Burne-Jones's portrait of the Baronne Deslandes, painted in 1895 and exhibited in Paris at the Champ-de-Mars the following year (fig. 1). Madeleine Annette Edmé Angélique Vivier-Deslandes (1866-1929) was a well-connected Parisian bluestocking of semi-Jewish descent. While her private life was disaster-prone, two marriages ending in divorce by 1902, her novels, published under the pseudonym 'Ossit', enjoyed a vogue in Symbolist circles and her salon was attended by many luminaries of the day. Tissot, Fauré, Edmond de Goncourt, Hugo von Hoftmansthal and Oscar Wilde were among the habitués.
Burne-Jones enjoyed an enormous reputation in Paris in the early 1890s, and it was inevitable that the Baronne should become, as Jean Lorrain put it, 'une fervente' of the fashionable artist. In 1893 she came to London and called on her hero, on whom she was writing an article for Le Figaro. The portrait, confirming her status as the high priestess of the Burne-Jones cult in the French capital, followed two years later. Few works shed more light on Anglo-French cultural relations at the end of the 19th Century.
The drawing was presumably done at a first sitting, essentially to fix the pose, which remains more or less unchanged in the painting. There are, however significant differences of detail, notably the design of the dress, which has three bows between neckline and waist in the painting. The sitter may have worn such a dress at later sittings, or she may have sat for the head only, sending a dress to be painted from a lay-figure. That could be the implication of the remark made by Burne-Jones's assistant T.M. Rooke that on 12 December 1895 the artist was 'painting dress and background of portrait of Parisian lady'.
Also absent from the drawing are the laurel leaves behind the sitter and the crystal ball in her hands, symbols of prophecy and poetic inspiration that Burne-Jones introduced, perhaps just slightly tongue-in-cheek, to flatter the Baronne's literary pretentions. These would probably would not even have been painted from nature, being rather added 'out of the artist's head'.
The words 'wildly jolly' inscribed in Burne-Jones's hand at upper right are hard to explain unless they are an ironic comment on the sitter's humourless demeanour or the rather forbidding image that she presents in the drawing.
The drawing has an interesting provenance, having belonged to the actor Vincent Price, famous for his grand guignol roles. Price was a notable collector; another of his drawings, a self-portrait in red chalk by Alphonse Legros, was on the London art market some years ago.