The Legend of Briar Rose was a subject that had occupied Burne-Jones's mind since the mid-1860s when he prepared a series of tiles of the subject for Morris & Co, and he first began painting the subject at the request of William Graham, MP and Glasgow businessman in 1869. However, the largest and best-known cycle of The Legend of Briar Rose was begun in 1885, and the four completed canvases were sold to Lord Faringdon by Agnews in 1890, to hang in his home Buscot Park in Oxfordshire. After viewing the room in which the pictures were to hang, Burne-Jones then painted 10 connecting panels in order that the whole wall surface be covered.
The charming sketch sold here is a study for the figure of Sleeping Beauty in the fourth canvas in the series, The Rose Bower. The inscription on the frame of the completed oil reads:
Here lies the hoarded love, the key
To all the treasure that shall be.
Come, fated hand, the gift to take
And smite the sleeping world awake.