The story of Bluebeard is a French folktale, the most famous version of which was written by Charles Perrault and published in 1697. The watercolour depicts the moment when Fatima, Bluebeard’s young wife, pauses before she opens the forbidden room in the castle in which she will find the bodies of his former wives: ‘When she reached the door of the closet she hesitated for a moment or so, thinking upon her husband’s command, and considering what ill might befall her if she disobeyed it. While he uttered it his look had been extremely stern, and a blue beard… might betoken a harsh temper. On the other hand, and though she continued to find it repulsive, he had hitherto proved himself a kind, even an indulgent husband, and for the life of her she could not imagine there was anything unpardonable in opening so small a chamber. The temptation, in short, was too strong for her to overcome. She took the little key and, trembling, opened the door.’
This drawing is after Burne-Jones's 1862 work of the same name (private collection). Clifford was heavily influenced by Burne-Jones and copied several of his works in the 1860s. According to a previous catalogue entry, a now-lost letter on the back of the frame from Burne-Jones indicated that this drawing was commissioned by him.