The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon (Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico) is Burne-Jones's largest painting, so large in fact that Burne-Jones took a special studio for it in Campden Hill. It was begun in 1881 as a commission from his friend and patron, George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle, and intended for the Library at Naworth Castle, Howard's Cumbrian seat (see lot 20 for four drawings by Howard). However, as the painting progressed, it acquired increasing personal significance for the artist, becoming a 'swan-song into which the artist poured his deepest feelings' (S. Wildman and J. Christian, Edward Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer, New York, 1998, p. 315). In 1882, Howard acknowledging Burne-Jones' attachment and and that he was unlikely to obtain the painting in the near future, resigned his right to the commission and the artist painted a 'simpler scheme' for the library. The artist worked intermittently on the canvas over the next seventeen years and especially during the last years of his life and although complete in all essentials, it was not quite finished when he died suddenly in June 1898.
These studies are two of the group of hill-fairies, that Burne-Jones considered including in the lateral sections of the painting. He was evidently developing the composition in 1885, as another related drawing, which was sold in these Rooms, 9 June 2005, lot 111, was dated 1885; furthermore, there is an entry for the same year in his autograph work-record, preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge stating that he 'made the designs for the Fairies in the hills of that picture'.
We are grateful to John Christian for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.