The present drawings are studies of the angels baring the way to Sir Bors and Sir Percival in the fifth tapestry The Attainment (see Fig. 1) of the set of six illustrating the Quest for the Holy Grail, which were produced by Morris and Co. in the 1890s. The tapestries in turn depict The Knights of the Round Table summoned to the Quest by the Strange Damsel; The Arming and Departure of the Knights; The Failure of Sir Launcelot to enter the Chapel; The failure of Sir Gawain; The Attainment, and The Ship. Burne-Jones described the composition of the present scene as follows: 'We have passed out of Britain and are in the land of Sarras, the land of the soul, that is. And of all the hundred and fifty that went on the Quest, three only are chosen and may set foot on that shire, Bors, Percival and Galahad. Of these Bors and Percival may see the Graal afar off-three big angels bar their way and one holds the spear that bleeds; that is the spear that entered Christ's side, and it bleeds always. You know by its appearing that the Graal is near. And the comes Galahad who alone may see it-and to see it is death, for it is seeing the face of God.'
The Holy Grail tapestries were a return for William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones to one of their favourite stories, the Malory's Morte d'Arthur, with which they had been devoted since undergraduates at Oxford and was a subject to which Burne-Jones returned in his later work.
The tapestries were commissioned from Morris and Co. by W.K. d'Arcy, an Australian mining millionaire for Stanmore Hall, Middlesex. The collaboration between Morris and Burne-Jones in this venture represents the climax of their co-operation in the revival of the art of tapestry weaving in England and one of the finest achievements of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In total three sets of tapestries were made, one of which for George MuCulloch was offered Christie's, London, 16 November 1994, lot 56-60.