Alice la Belle Pèlerine is an early work in pen and ink by the artist; only about ten finished examples are known. They begin with The Waxen Image (1856) and the last drawing in the group is an illustration to Browning's poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford). That work dates from 1861, the year Burne-Jones exchanged pen-and-ink for watercolour as his primary means of expression.
In January 1856 Burne-Jones met Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and found that he too was a devotee of the medium. However, Burne-Jones's use of the pen was always drier and more finicky than Rossetti's, and this suggests another influence. John Ruskin was almost as much admired by Burne-Jones and his Oxford friend William Morris as Rossetti himself. They met him for the first time in November 1856, and Ruskin may well have encouraged the young artist to persevere with pen-and-ink. In The Elements of Drawing, Ruskin urges his readers to begin with this medium and advocates a method very similar to that adopted by Burne-Jones, in which tones are built up with minute touches and dots and the pen-knife used to soften forms and erase unwanted lines.
Equally significant was the use Ruskin made of Dürer's prints as teaching instruments. He was collecting them eagerly from the early 1850s and constantly lending them to those he was trying to guide and influence. The Elements of Drawing abounds in references to Dürer's engravings. Burne-Jones was undoubtedly familiar with Dürer's work long before he left Oxford in 1856, but there can be little doubt either that Ruskin lent him examples and encouraged him to study them. He was certainly to give Burne-Jones a group of Dürer's most important engravings and woodcuts in 1865.
Alice la Belle Pèlerine belongs to a group of drawings that forms a distinct sub-section of these early drawings. Dating from 1858, and executed on vellum, they represent the prevailing medievalism at its most intense and characteristic. The other drawings in the group are the Fogg's Sir Galahad, the Fitzwilliam's Going to the Battle, The Knight's Farewell (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and Kings' Daughters, which was sold at Sotheby's, London, 20 November 2002.
Malory and Froissart were the crucial literary sources for the circle's medievalism. Rossetti referred to his current watercolours as having 'chivalric Froissartian themes'. The two authors inspired most of the poems in Morris's first volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere, published in March 1858, and Malory provided the subjects of the murals in the Oxford Union. Burne-Jones's drawings, which were executed in the months immediately following his return from Oxford in February 1858, are yet another example. The subject of Alice la Belle Pèlerine also derives from the Morte d'Arthur. Alice is an obscure figure in the story of Sir Tristram, falling in love with Sir Alisander le Orphelin (Sir Alexander the Orphan), whose family has been persecuted by King Mark of Cornwall. The scallop shells that adorn her bodice are traditional symbols of the pilgrim.
Little is known of Richard Mills, the drawing's first owner; he owned another pen and ink drawing by Burne-Jones, Going to the Battle, and several other Pre-Raphaelite works. Three days before the auction in April 1908 a separate sale had been devoted to Mills's extensive collection of Chinese porcelain, suggesting that he had been much influenced by the ideals of the Aesthetic movement. He was one of the connoisseurs who supported and ran the Burlington Fine Arts Club. Alice la Belle Pèlerine was bought by Gooden and Fox, and we next hear of it belonging to the Italian art-historian Roberto Longhi. Longhi's fellow art-historian Bernard Berenson also owned an early work by Burne-Jones, the watercolour version of Sidonia von Bork. It is even possible that Longhi owed something to Berenson in this respect as the two men were friends.
Fitzwilliam work list
1859... drew Alice la belle Pelerine and going to battle ... all these were pen and ink drawings on velum... and Mr Mills the two others
The implication is Mr Mills owned the above.
Also after "1859" in the left margin is written by Georgiana "this was 1858".
In an early sketchbook in the Victoria and Albert museum Acc no 91D 37, Georgiana's correction is corroborated by a list of drawings under the date 1858 included is Alyce Pelerine... Mills
George Howard 9th Earl of Carlisle, owned a photograph of the work, still in Wilfred Roberts ( the Earl's grandson ) collection c 1967.
The re-appearance of Alice la Belle Pelerine is an exciting development in Burne-Jones scholarship. Anyone familiar with the artist's work is aware of the group of small, meticulously handled pen-and-ink drawings that he produced during the first few years of his career. Apart from various pieces of decorative work, including the Oxford union murals, the "Prioress's Tale" wardrobe (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and some highly innovative stained-glass cartoons, these drawings were his greatest achievement at this period. About ten finished examples are known, plus a few fragments and preliminary or alternative versions. They begin with The Waxen Image, a scene of witchcraft in two compartment, s inspired by Rossetti's poem "Sister Helen"; dated 1856, this was the first item that Burne-Jones would allow into the canon of his work (the earlier illustrations to Archibald Maclaren's Fairy Family being excluded). the last drawing in the group is an illustration to Browning's poem "Childe Harold" (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford). This dates from 1861, the year Burne-Jones exchanged pen-and-ink for watercolour as his primary means of expression.
Alas The Waxen image was destroyed during the Second World War and was apparently never reproduced, although we do have a verbal description. Other wise nearly all of the pen-and-ink drawings that Burne-Jones himself recorded into work-lists (see "unpublished literature" above) have long since been traced. Some, like Going to Battle (fig 2), Sir Galahad (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard) and Buondelmonte's Wedding (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) were in public collections well before the revival of interest in Victorian art began in the 1960s. Others have surfaced since. The Wise and Foolish Virgins of 1859 (private collection), perhaps the gem of the whole series, re-emerged in 1974, followed by Childe Harold about a year later. The Knight's Farewell entered the Ashmolean Museum n the Death of John Bryson in 1976, The only drawing that was remained elusive until now is Alice la Belle Pelerine.
Like all the other drawing's, it occurs in Burne-Jone's work lists - as Alice la Belle Pelegrine (sic) in one, Alys Pelerine in the other; and it was included in the memorial exhibition of his drawings held at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1899. It was lent by Richard mills, as was the Fitzwilliam's Going to Battle (fig. 2). Even a rare contemporary photograph turned up in the 1980s, giving us the composition. Bur the supposition, now happily proved wrong, was that the drawing itself was lost.
Burne-Jones probably had several reasons for adopting the pen-and-ink technique. In a sense he was not really "adopting" it at all as he had already been using it for the Fairy Family drawings that he had begun in 1854 when he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, drawings which were intended for engraving. Then in January 1856 he met his hero D.G.Rossetti, and found that he too was a devotee of pen-and-ink medium. In other words, it was natural to continue using the medium now that he was Rossetti's devoted follower.
However, Burne-Jones's use of the pen was always drier and more finicky that Rossetti's, and this suggests another influence. John Ruskin was almost as much admired by Burne-Jones and his Oxford friend William Morris as Rossetti himself. they met him for the first time in November 1856, and Ruskin may well have encouraged the young artist to persevere with pen-and-ink. In Elements of Drawing, published the following year but based on long experience of teaching at the Working Men's College, Ruskin urges his readers to begin with this medium and advocates a method very similar to that adopted by Burne-Jones, in which tones are built up with minute touches and dots and the pen-knife used to soften forms and erase unwanted lines.
Equally significant was the use Ruskin made of Durer's print as teaching instruments. He was collecting them eagerly from the early 1850s and constantly lending them to those he was trying to guide and influence: his pupils at the Working Men's College, the girls of Winnington School, or artist's such as Lady Waterford and Rossetti's fiancee Elizabeth Siddal. The Elements of Drawing abounds in references to Durer's engravings, which the reader is told to acquire and copy as aids to painstaking, accurate draughtsmanship.
Burne-Jones was undoubtedly familiar with Durer's work long before he left Oxford in 1856, but there can be little doubt either that Ruskin lent him examples and encouraged him to study them. he may well have been the source of the "drawings(sic) of Albert Durer" that were hanging in the studio that Burne-Jones and Morris shared that year in Upper Gordon Street, Bloomsbury; and he was certainly to give Burne-Jones a group of Durer's most important engravings and woodcuts - "all perfect impressions", according to the lucky recipient - in 1865.
In the light of so much pressure from Ruskin, it is not surprising that Durer's engravings were a major influence on Burne-Jones's pen-and-ink drawings. Rossetti virtually acknowledged as much when he described them to William Bell Scott (another Durer enthusiast) as "marvels of finish and imaginative detail, unequalled by anything unless perhaps Albert Durer's finest works". Durer not on,y shaped Burne-Jones's approached to the medium but supplied many of the quint and picturesque details in which the ardent yet tongue-in-cheek medievalism of Rossetti's circle in the late 1850s found so such abundant expression. In the case of the Fogg's Sir Galahad the whole conception is inspired by Durer's famous engraving The Knight, Death and the Devil. this was one of the first Dureresque images to impinge on Burne-Jones and Morris since a reproduction had served as the frontispiece of Fouque's Simtram and his Companions, a book to which they had been devoted at Oxford.
Charles Elliot Norton once described The Waxen Image as a drawing "in the extreme Pre-Raphaelite manner, exquisitely over-elaborated (and) of infinite detail". the same could be said of all the pen-and-ink drawings, and Alice la Belle Pelerine is no exception. It belongs to a group which forms a distinct sub-section of these compositions, all dating from 1858, all executed on vellum, and all representing the prevailing medievalism at its most intense and characteristic . The other drawings in the group are the Fogg's Sir Galahad, the Fitzwilliam's Going to Battle(fig2), The Knight's Farewell in the Ashmolean, and King's Daughters, which sold at Sotheby's, London, on 20 November 2002, having been in the Landsdowne collection since its execution. Malory and Froissart were the crucial literary sources for the circle's medievalism. Rossetti referred to his current watercolour's as having "chivalric Froissartian themes". The two authors inspired most of the poems in Morris's first volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere, published in March 1858, and Malory provided the subjects of the murals in the oxford Union that the three artist' and a group of friends had painted the previous autumn and winter. Burne-Jones's drawings, which were executed in the months immediately following his return from Oxford in February 1858, are yet another example . Sir Galahad takes its subject from Malory and the dependent poem by Tennyson. A figure in The Knight's Farewell reads a book entitled "Roman du Queste du Sangrail". The reference t Froissart in Going to Battle is obvious; and if King's Daughters is not actually "Froissartian" it is the next thing to it, namely an illustration to a French medieval chanson translated by Rossetti.
The subject of Alice la Belle Pelerine also derives from Morte d'Arthur. "Alice la Beale Pilgrim", as Malory calls her, is an obscure figure in the story of Sir Tristram, falling in love with Sir Alisander le Orpheim (Sir Alexander the Orphan), whose family has been persecuted by the rascally King mark of Cornwall. She reappears even more briefly towards the end of the book, when we are told that she has a son Sir Bellanger la Beuse, and that she herself is "kin unto Sir Lancelot".
Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Morris were not only treating the same literary sources but sharing visual motif's and ideas. Burne-Jones's pen and ink drawings often echo Rossetti's contemporary watercolours, and both find reflections in The Defence of Guenevere. the fact that Morris had considerable private means and could afford to support his friends, buying several of Rossetti's watercolours and the Knight's Farewell by Burne-Jones, only made for greater coherence between the trio's work. Two of Morris's poems, "The Blue Closet" and "The Tune of Seven Towers", were actually conceived as literary equivalents of pictures he had bought from Rossetti.
Alice la Belle Pelerine may have no specific Morrisian parallel, but its Rossettian dimension is not in doubt. the flat heraldic patterns that cover so much of the surface are an equally striking feature of Rossetti's contemporary watercolurs. no less reminiscent of the older artist is the way a sense of airlessness and claustrophobia is created by cramming the forms up against the frame; if the old photograph did not show that not a millimetre has been lost, it would be tempting to conclude that the image has been cut down. A particularly Rossettian detail is the triangular window behind Alice's head. A similar window appears in Fra Pace (private collection), a watercolour of a monk illuminating a manuscript that Rossetti was working on when Burne-Jones first called at his studio in Chatham Place, Blackfriars, in January 1856. Two more such windows occur in Dante's Dream at the time of the Death of Beatrice (fig. 3), another watercolours of this year that we know Burne-Jones greatly admired. many years later he would tell his assistant T. M. Rooke that is (sic) was "one of the most beautiful things (Rossetti) ever did"; the two later and much larger oil versions were not "nearly so good".
And yet, even at this very early stage the difference between Rossetti and his follower are at least as significant as the similarities. However "heraldic" Rossetti may be, he is always interested first and foremost in drama and psychological tension. Burne-Jones, on the other hand, loves pattern and texture for their own sake, too the point where they almost become the raison d'etre of the composition. It is significant that the subject of Alice la Belle Pelerine is not one of the great dramatic scenes of the Morte d'Arthur - something like the discovery of Sir Lancelot in Queen Guinevere's bedroom or his consequent failure to achieve the Holy Grail, both of which Rossetti selected for his Oxford Union murals - but an obscure heroine who can be made the pretext for a drawing of a stately and richly dressed Pre-Raphaelite beauty and her attendants. the only reference even to Alice's name is the scallop shell, traditional symbols of the pilgrim, that adorn her bodice. Going to Battle (fig.2) and King's Daughters are similar in approach. Idealized groups of female figures conceived in terms of line and pattern, they show that as early as the late 1850s Burne-Jones was moving towards the values of the Aesthetic movement. nor is it hard to see already why he rather than Rossetti would be the great ally of Morris in the many decorative enterprises that lay ahead.
The spirit of these drawings must owe much to the fact that they were largely executed at Little Holland House. Not loong after after he returned to London from painting his Union Mural, Burne-Jones fell ill. he was never robust, and the mental excitement of the last ten years, coupled with the intensely hot weather that summer, had brought him to the point of collapse. He was rescued by kindly, bossy Sarah Prinsep, who carried him off to recuperate at her Kensington home. Seven years earlier she and her husband Thoby, a wealthy retired Indian Civil servant, had taken a lease on a house from Lord Holland, and Sarah had proceeded to create a salon frequented by luminaries in the worlds of art, literature, politics and science. The painter G.F. Watts lived in the house as a sort of resident genius. An air of indolent luxury prevailed , reflecting both the "Venetian" ethos of his pictures and the household's Indian antecedents; and if the "lions" of the salon ensured that here was no shortage of intellect, glamour was provided by the seven Pattle sisters, a group of devoted siblings who included not only Sarah Prinsep herself bur Julia Margaret Cameron, later the famous photographer, and Virginia , Countess Somers, one of the acknowledged beauties of the day. There was always a lavish sprinkling of Anglo-indian children whom Sarah and Thoby had taken under their wing.
Burne-Jones had been introduced to the Prinseps by Rossetti the previous year, and was friendly with their son Val, a pupil of Watts, who had painted one of the Union Murals and experiencing a lifestyle so different from anything he had known before, proved a revelation. "I could not realise then as I do now", wrote Lady Burne-Jones in her biography of her husband, "what this visit to Little Holland house must have been to him. There, for the first time, he found himself surrounded without any effort of his own by beauty in ordinary life, and no day passed without awakening some admiration or enthusiasm. He had never gone short of love and loving care, but for visible beauty he had literally starved through all his early years. The ,ovely garden that surrounded the house was an enchanted circle separating it from other places: there in the summertime and especially on Sundays, came most people of note in different circles that made up the "world" of England - old and young, rich and poor, each welcome for some reason recognised by the hostess. Part of the great lawn was given up to croquet - the chief outdoor game of the time - and another to bowls, whilst elsewhere encampments could be seen of those who did not play;and all seemed happy. The very strawberries that stood in little crimson hills upon the tables were larger and riper than others."
This was the cultures, rather rarified milieu in which Burne-Jones created his pen and ink drawings of 1858, and it is not hard to see them, especially Alice la Belle Pelerine and King's Daughters, as medievalist visions of the Pattles, their children an distinguished guests pacing the spacious lawns or drifting through the dimly-lit rooms at Little Holland House that boiling hot summer, when Lady Burne-Jones tells us, "the themometer stood at 90 in the shade". Significantly enough, the old photograph of Alice was discovered in an album of drawings that Burne-Jones gave to the youngest of the Pattle sisters, Sophia Dalrymple, to whom he was particularly close. the book was published as The Little Holland House Album in 1981 (Dalrymple Press, North Berwick). Little is known of Richard Mills, the drawing's first owner, although he must have been an important early patron of Burne-Jones. not only did he own two pen-and-ink drawings, Alice and Going to Battle (fig. 2), but a watercolour of 1861, The Annunciation (Birmingham). At the time moreover, Mills must have been a young man himself; his postumous sale at Christie's did not take place until 1908, ten years after Burne-Jones's death.
When mills died he was living t 34 Queens Gate Terrace, South Kensington, and had quite a collections of paintings and drawings. Several other Pre-Raphaelites, including Rossetti, Simeon Solomon, J.W. Inchbold and John Brett, were represented, and there were paintings by Leighton and George Hemming mason. it was the English watercolourists, however, who dominated the collection; Turner, Girtin, Cotman, Cox, De Wint, W.H. Hunt and Helen Allingingham, all these and many more were present.
Three days earlier a separate sale had been devoted to Mills's extensive collection of Chinese porcelain, suggesting that he had been much influenced by the ideals of the Aesthetic movement. He also seems to ave been one of the connoisseurs who supported and ran the Burlington Fine Arts Club, a subject that has yet to be researched. His porcelain was exhibited there in 1895-6, his Burne-Jones drawings in 1899.
At Mills's sale Alice la Belle Pelerine was bought by the dealers Gooden and Fox, and we next hear of it belonging to the Italian art-historian Roberto Longhi. This is an interesting addition to the subject of Burne-Jones provenances, although one that is not without parallel. Longhi's fellow art-historian Bernard Berenson also owned an early work by Burne-Jones, the version of the watercolour Sidonia Von Bork that was sold last year in New York. It is even possible that Longhi owed something to Berenson in this respect. The two men were friends, although the relationship was not without its tensions.
(Note: Christie's are mistaken in using the title "Childe Harold", the Drawing they are actually referring to is entitled "Childe Rowland" and this was inspired by Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" of 1852. Also they refer to "Albert Durer" when the artist is correctly called Albrecht Durer.)