By an extraordinary coincidence this sale contains two major Pre-Raphaelite portraits with romantic associations in which the sitters are aged twenty-one. If Edith Waugh fell in love with Holman Hunt as a young girl and eventually married him, as his second wife, in the teeth of intense family opposition and social prejudice (see lot 160), then Frances Graham was probably the most important woman in Burne-Jones's life after his wife Georgiana, his daughter Margaret, and Mary Zambaco, the Greek beauty with whom he conducted a passionate affair in the late 1860s. She was certainly the most important of the young women with whom he enjoyed romantic yet platonic relationships in later life.
Born in 1858, she was the fourth of the eight children of his staunchest and most sypathetic patron, William Graham. A wealthy India merchant and liberal MP for Glasgow, Graham had a passionate devotion to art, not the least diminished by his strict Presbyterian faith. He bought pictures on a princely scale, but his greatest love was the early Italian masters and the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Rossetti and Burne-Jones, whom he recognised as their heirs. In Burne-Jones's case this undoubtedly played a major part in his development, encouraging him to think in Italianate terms, knowing that his work would be seen in the context of Graham's Old Masters. Graham had a special fondness for pictures of a romantic Giorgionesque type, and it is no accident that many of his Burne-Joneses conformed to this - pictures such as Green Summer, Le Chant d'Amour, Laus Veneris, and the early Briar Rose series. A year before Graham's death in 1885, Gladstone appointed him a trustee of the National Gallery. His collection was sold in a two-day sale at Christie's in April 1886.
Frances shared her father's interests. Together they would visit artist's studios, often going in the late 1860s to Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk. He would read them his House of Life sonnets, and in 1869, when Frances was eleven, he drew her as 'The Lady of the Window' in the Vita Nuova. She later reproduced the drawing (private collection) in her memoirs, Time Remembered (1933). When, about 1874, her father took to going to Burne-Jones's house, The Grange, in North End Road, Fulham, she at first 'thought it rather dull', but it was not long before she changed her mind. Burne-Jones 'was then a man of forty', she recalled, 'just approaching his full fame, which he reached some ten or fifteen years later....He generally came twice a week to our house [in Grosvenor Place] to dine, and his company was most fascinating... He was one of the wittiest and jolliest of talkers'. Burne-Jones for his part was equally taken with her. She was not a great beauty, her features being rather heavy; friends called her 'the Botticelli', although this probably reflected her father's taste as much as her own appearance. But it was her strength of mind, her intellectual curiosity, and her depth of sympathetic understanding that Burne-Jones valued, and she was soon one of his closest confidants. Herbert Asquith wrote to her after his death in 1898: 'I can hardly imagine anything that could tear a greater gap in your life or create such a breach between the future and the past. He gave you always of his best, and it must be some solace to you to remember that up to the end you above all others lightened and enriched his difficult life'.
If Frances was 'fascinated' by Burne-Jones's conversation, she also inspired some of his best letters. Many of these are quoted in Time Remembered and in Lady Burne-Jones's Memorials of her husband (1904), while a delightful series addressed to Frances and her younger sister Agnes (later Lady Jekyll) when the Grahams were travelling in Italy in 1876, telling them what to see on the basis of his own four visits to the country at earlier dates, was published by Francis Russell in Apollo in 1978 (vol. CVIII, pp. 424-7). Needless to say, Burne-Jones's art was also at the service of his Egeria. 'Many a patient design went to adorning Frances' ways', he told Ruskin, who was similarly smitten, in 1883, 'Sirens for her girdle, Heavans and Paradises for her prayer-books, Virtues and Vices for her necklace-boxes - ah! the folly of me from the begining'. The greatest artistic monument to their friendship is the famous 'Orpheus' piano (private collection), commissioned by Graham for his daughter in 1879, which Burne-Jones both designed and decorated; but there were many other tributes - illuminated books, designs for needlework, a painted jewel-casket, and a charming design for shoes (repr. Abdy and Gere, op.cit., p. 129). Perhaps the gift which most perfectly expressed their relationship was a Valentine card which her friend Mary Gladstone, not without envy, recorded her receiving in 1875: 'Frances got such a beauty from Mr Burne-Jones - a big picture of Cupid dragging a maiden through all the meshes of love'. Frances also appears in several of her admirer's pictures. She is the nymph in the far right in The Arming of Perseus (Fig. 1), one of the Perseus series commissioned by Arthur Balfour in 1875; and she is one of a number of girls in the artist's circle who are seen descending The Golden Stairs (1880; Tate Gallery), doing much by their well-publicised presence to give the picture its unique and influential status as an icon of the Aesthetic movement.
In 1883 Frances married (Sir) John Horner (1842-1927), a barrister who had inherited the family estate of Mells Park, Somerset, nine years earlier. He became High Sheriff of the county in 1885, and was created KCVO on his retirement in 1907. For a time after her marriage Frances saw less of Burne-Jones, but the friendship soon renewed its course, lasting until Burne-Jones's death and remaining of vital importance to Frances until her own death in 1940. In the 1880s she became a leading light in the coterie known as 'The Souls'. Indeed Lady Paget called her the 'High Priestess' of the set, a tribute not least to her close relationship with the artist who above all was the arbiter of their taste. Like many of the circle, the Horners were to suffer grieviously in the Great War, losing their son Edward at the battle of Cambrai in 1917, as well as their son-in-law Raymond Asquith. Edward had modelled for one of Burne-Jones's last paintings, The Prioress's Tale (Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington), exhibited at the New Gallery in 1989. The study was sold in these Rooms on 2 November 1990, lot 169.
Several portrait drawings of Frances herself survive. One was included in the Arts Council's Burne-Jones Exhibition of 1975-6, no. 235; another, in profile, is illustrated in Abdy and Gere, op.cit., p. 130. Both are more or less contemporary with our picture, as was a double portrait of Frances and her sister Agnes which Burne-Jones undertook in 1879, possibly to mark the elder sister's twenty-first birthday. The picture is referred to in Burne-Jones's autograph work-list (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,) as 'Portrait of Frances Graham and her sister'; but if it survives, it has not been traced. Thus at present our picture is the only painted likeness of Frances by Burne-Jones, as distinct from the drawn studies.
Burne-Jones was a reluctant portraitist. 'I do not easily get portraiture', he wrote, 'and the perpetual hunt to find in a face what I like, and leave not what mislikes me, is a bad school for it.' By 'what I like' he did not only mean what conformed to his very strong sense of beauty, although this was important; he also believed that portraiture should be 'the expession of character amd moral quality, not of anything temporary, fleeting, accidental'. It is not surprising that he was often most successful when painting relatives or friends.
Frances Graham was an eminently suitable though no doubt a challenging subject, and in his portrait of her he seeks to achieve his ideal. The eyes were always of great importance in his faces, and he focuses on hers, appropriately since they were one of her most remarkable features. Margot Asquith is said to have called them 'ghost eyes', and faced with this portrait, we feel that we know what she meant. Deliberately understated and in no way 'obvious', the picture gradually comes to have an almost hynoptic effect. Comparisons can be made with other portraits by Burne-Jones, notably that of Lady Windsor, another 'Soul' (private collection; repr. Abdy and Gere, op.cit., p.122), although this is later (1893) and a much more formal full-length. Outside his oeuvre, however, the picture has no real parallel in Victorian portraiture, finding its true context in international Symbolism. The truth of this is suggested by the fact that a similar and almost contemporary Burne-Jones portrait, that of Lady Frances Balfour, was bought in 1991 by the Musée des Beaux-Arts at Nantes. Certain portraits by Fernand Khnopff come particularly close, and it is interesting that Khnopff had recently become a devotee of Burne-Jones, admiring the pictures that he had sent to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878. In the 1890s they would meet in London and exchange drawings. The study that Burne-Jones gave Khnopff was sold in these Rooms on 5 November 1993, lot 127.
The picture has remained relatively unknown. It was not exhibited in Burne-Jones's lifetime, although it did appear at the memorial exhibition at the New Gallery in 1898-9. Described simply as 'A Portrait Sketch', possibly a form of anonymity requested by the bereaved sitter, it was lent by Sit Kenneth Muir Mackenzie, the husband of her sister Amy. It then disappeared for many years, only surfacing after the Arts Council's Burne-Jones Exhibition of 1975-6.
After Time Remembered, an essential source for anyone interested in Burne-Jones, the best account of Frances's life and friendship with the artist is to be found in Jane Abdy and Charlotte Gere, The Souls, 1984, Chapter 10. The subject is also treated in Lord David Cecil's Visionary and Dreamer, 1969, and Penelope Fitzgerald's biography of Burne-Jones, 1975.