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2 MORGAN LE FAY
1862

SIR EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
1833-1898

A 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 contain-ing 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.

Morgan 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.

 

 


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2 MORGAN LE FAY
1862

SIR EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
1833-1898

Gouache, 96.5 x 48.25 (38 x 19)

Signed and dated, EBJ 1862 (lower left)

Provenance: William Graham, sale Christie's 8 April 1886 (139), bought Edward Clifford for £57. 15s: Cecil French by 1948.

Exhibited: 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).

Literature: 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, 1995, p.240.

A 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.

Morgan 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.

Arthurian 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.

The 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).

The 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.

Although 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.

Around 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.

Studies 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.

Edward 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.

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