This vigorously handled drawing has never been published before and is still in its original mount and frame. The mount is almost certainly the work of Robert Guéraut, well known at the time as a mounter of drawings, with a distinguished clientele. Burne-Jones and Leighton both employed him. So did the collectors J.P. Heseltine, Alfred Morrison and Edmond de Rothschild. He also mounted drawings for the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and for Christ Church, Oxford.
The drawing dates from the mid-1860s, and is characteristic of a group of studies made by Burne-Jones at this date. Other examples are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Both in subject and technique, they represent the moment when he came close stylistically to Albert Moore and Whistler, each of whom he knew. The seated female figures, drawn in white, black and white, or sometimes red and white chalk on buff paper, derive ultimately from the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum; and they lack any narrative purpose, being essentially self-sufficient essays in abstract line and form. Few are studies for pictures, although there are one or two paintings, notably The Lament of 1866 (William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow), in which this Aesthetic approach found more developed expression.
Both Whistler and Moore continued to use comparable techniques and to explore the possibilities of the 'subjectless' composition, but for Burne-Jones it was a passing phase. By the early 1870s he had adopted a more linear, 'Florentine' manner of drawing, and was showing a renewed interest in literary themes. It is no accident that at the Whistler/Ruskin libel trial in 1878, Albert Moore gave evidence on Whistler's behalf while Burne-Jones appeared for Ruskin.
The drawing belonged to Frances Graham (1858-1940), the fourth child of William Graham, a wealthy India merchant and Liberal MP for Glasgow who was Burne-Jones's greatest patron. Frances herself maintained an amitié amoureuse with the artist for many years, setting the pattern for a number of sentimental but platonic relationships which he enjoyed with young women in later life. He showered her with presents, and this drawing was no doubt among them. On her death, it passed to her eldest child Cicely (1883-1972), the grandmother of the present owner. Cicely married the Hon. George Lambton, fifth son of the second Earl of Durham, in 1908, thus exchanging the rarefied world of the Souls in which her mother had been such a leading light for the very different ambient of the Newmarket racing establishment. Her portrait by Burne-Jones, painted when she was eleven in 1895, was sold in these Rooms for £110,000 on 9 June 1995, lot 346.