MORGAN LE FAY
EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
96.5 x 48.25 (38 x 19)
and dated, EBJ 1862 (lower left)
William Graham, sale Christie's 8 April 1886 (139), bought
Edward Clifford for £57. 15s: Cecil French by 1948.
Whitechapel Art Gallery, The Pre-Raphaelites, 1948
(10); Fulham Library, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Oct.-
Nov. 1967 (2); Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, Burne-Jones,
1971 (56); Arts Council, Burne-Jones, 1975 (37); Fulham
Library, Edward Burne-Jones: Paintings and Drawings from
the French Bequest, 1983 (7); Galleria Nazionale d'Arte
Moderna, Rome, Burne-Jones, 1986 (5).
Anonymous (E.Clifford), Broadlands As It Was, 1890,
p.55; M.Bell, Edward Burne-Jones: a Record and Review,
1894, 3rd ed. pp.30-31; F.de Lisle, Burne-Jones, 1904,
p.69; Newnes' Art Library, Sir Edward Burne-Jones,
1907, pl.14; M.Harrison and B.Waters, Burne-Jones,
1973, pp.75,76; A.C.Sewter, The Stained Glass of William Morris
and his Circle, 1974, 2 v., II, p.45; P.Fitzgerald, Edward
Burne-Jones, 1975, p.84;. M.Johnson, Burne-Jones,
1979, pl.7; S.Wildman, ed. Visions of Love and Life,
standing female figure facing to the left wearing a long-sleeved,
blue mediaeval gown and a long, silvery surcoat. Under her
raised and bent left arm she holds a round burnished black
pot containing leaves and sprigs of plants. With her raised
right hand she holds a sprig of leaves to her lips, her hair
is veiled. She stands in a field with daisies and cow-parsley
with clumps of bracken and shrubs behind her.
le Fay, a figure in Arthurian legend, was the daughter of
Queen Igrayne and the half-sister of King Arthur to whom she
revealed, by means of a magic potion, the affair between Sir
Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. The painting depicts her collecting
ingredients for the potion.
themes dominated the work of Burne-Jones, Morris and, to a
lesser extent, Rossetti from 1857, the year of the disastrous
attempt to fresco the Oxford Union building with scenes from
Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Although he was
to return to the subject, particularly with the vast Arthur
in Avalon, 1881-98, Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico,
this first Arthurian phase was largely over by 1863, owing,
in part, to the influence of John Ruskin who encouraged his
study of Italian renaissance painting.
John Christian has recorded, in the 1975 Arts Council catalogue,
that the painting was abandoned and the head cut out. William
Graham acquired the head and during or after his ownership
it was provided with a new body painted by Edward Clifford
(1844-1907), reported-ly from a needlework version of the
original worked by Lady Burne-Jones. According to Clifford
the reconstructed painting was then retouched by Burne-Jones.
needlework version would appear to be one of the four embroidered
panels (each c.106 x c.50) of Arthurian figures designed in
1863 as part of a decorative scheme for the Burne-Jones's
house, 62 Great Russell Street, which Georgiana Burne-Jones
recalled in her Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, 2
V., 1904, I, p.226; "He had already (1863) begun a series
of small figures from the Morte d'Arthur, of which I had finished
Merlin and Morgan Le Fay." The design for the panel is
in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (D.73.1927, verso)
and the embroidery is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (T.119-1985).
figure is identical to that of Burne-Jones's Medea,
from Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, the subject of
one of a number of designs for embroidery commissioned by
John Ruskin in 1863. It was also used as Medea for stained
glass c.1864 for Birket Foster's house, The Hill, Witley,
Surrey (now dispersed). A later example of the stained glass,
Hypsipyle and Medea (installed 1869) may be seen at
Peterhouse, Cambridge. The cartoon for the latter is in Birmingham
City Art Gallery. The costume in this cartoon is considerably
more detailed than that in the painting which, being closer
to that in the embroidery, lends credence to Clifford's account
of how the painting was reconstructed.
largely independent of Rossetti's influence by 1862, Burne-Jones
would certainly have seen the former's Golden Water (Princess
Parisade) of 1858 (35.6 x 18.3), now in the Fitzwilliam
Museum, Cambridge, which may have provided a prototype for
a standing figure holding a vessel under the right arm.
1895 Burne-Jones produced a further design of Hypsipyle
and Medea for a woodcut to illustrate The Legend of
Goode Wimmen in the Kelmscott Press Chaucer, 1896,
p.431. Medea is shown filling her spherical pot with herbs,
as in the earlier versions, and her dress is similar but otherwise
the pose differs considerably.
for poisonous plants, which John Christian suggests (Arts
Council catalogue, 1975) may be related to the painting, appear
in a sketch book of c.1862-3 at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton.
Clifford, the second owner and restorer of this painting was
a student at the Royal Academy Schools when he first met Burne-Jones
c.1866. An independently wealthy man, he became an enthusiastic
admirer and collector of Burne-Jones's work. He travelled
widely before devoting his later years to the Church Army.