This drawing is a preparatory sketch for a proposed scheme for the decoration of the Lecture Theatre apse ceiling at the South Kensington (now Victoria & Albert) Museum, in which Poynter was involved in 1869. His intention was for an elaborate mosaic composition derived from Raphael's School of Athens depicting the great artists and men from history and their muses. Unfortunately the scheme was thought to be too expensive at the time and was never carried out.
True to the classical tradition, the study of the life model was of utmost importance to Poynter. For the figures in his paintings the artist produced meticulous, beautifully executed studies to work from, such as the present lot. It is often such sketches that reveal the exceptional mastery of an artist’s hand, as opposed to larger, finished works.