These astonishingly free and spontaneous drawings, replete with extravagant serpentine arabesques that anticipate Art Nouveau, date from 1878 when Burne-Jones recorded that he had 'designed three panels for low relief of wood nymph, water nymph & Hesperides'. The reliefs were to be carried out in gesso, probably on the front (the Hesperides) and ends (the Nymphs) of a cassone. Indeed a cassone with the Hesperides relief on the front was made for Frances Horner in 1888 (Birmingham Art Gallery). There is also evidence that the Sea-Nymph design was carried out as a gesso relief, Burne-Jones hanging it in the room he furnished as a 'pot-house parlour' in his house at Rottingdean, although it no longer seems to exist. The Wood-Nymph was apparently never executed in gesso. However, a second version of the design (Daughters of Delights, cat, no. 7, illustrated), probably dating from about 1880, suggests that Burne-Jones continued to toy with the idea for some time.
Burne-Jones was a great recycler of designs, and these two are good examples. He had originally evolved the Sea-Nymph in 1875 as a contribution to a design for a woven fabric, 'Mermaid', by William Morris (Daughters of Delight, cat. no. 3, illustrated). Both figures were also to be re-worked on a larger scale as easel paintings in the early 1880s. A Wood-Nymph (Daughters of Delight, cat. no. 2, illustrated), which is dated 1883, was exhibited at the Grovenor Gallery the following year, and is now in the Art Division of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town, South Africa. A Sea-Nymph (Daughters of Delight, cat no. 1, illustrated), dated 1881 but not exhibited until its owner, William Connal, lent it to the International Exhibition at Glasgow in 1888, was sold in these Rooms on 14 June 2005, lot 34.