From an Album containing eighty drawings, including caricatures of the artist, William Morris and Val Prinsep, humorous drawings of devils and a 'wallypug', and sketches of figures, heads, birds, horses, a cat, flowers, drapery, armour, head-dresses, wings, books, and other decorative details, among them studies for 'The Wheel of Fortune', 'The Golden Stairs', 'The Arming of Perseus', 'The Briar Rose' and other paintings; together with a letter to Mrs Coronio regarding a dress for a model, a proof of a woodcut designed by Burne-Jones for Morris's Love is Enough, two drawings of birds by another hand, two printed texts - 'The Tale of Troy' and 'A Herald of Spring' - illustrated by Walter Crane, and an etched bookplate for H.G.F. Odsey, possibly by C.W. Sherborn.
The drawings in pencil, pen and ink, crayon and watercolour, sixty mounted on pages of blue paper, the rest tipped in; the album bound in half pigskin over oak boards, blindstamped in the gothic style, with the binder's mark inside the back cover.
This recently discovered and hitherto unpublished album appears to have been put together by someone in Burne-Jones's circle. The caricatures are typical of those he made for intimate friends, and most of the other drawings consist of rough working sketches or random doodles which would only have been available to a close associate.
The most likely answer is that the compiler was Aglaia Coronio or one of her relations, possibly her daughter Calliope. A member of the large Anglo-Greek family of Ionides which figures so prominently in the annals of Victorian art (see lot 572), Aglaia was a close friend of William Morris and might well have owned caricatures of him. It is interesting that some show him doing cartwheels and handstands (figs.3 & 4) while one shows him in his bath, since Luke Ionides, one of Aglaia's brothers, recalls in his privately printed Memories (1925) that he 'had a set of [Burne-Jones] caricatures of [Morris] doing catherine wheels in Cavendish Square, and another at the Turkish bath, where we had gone together'. These drawings may be the ones in question.
Aglaia was also close to Burne-Jones. Her 'perfect taste', Lady Burne-Jones recalled, 'had helped him a hundred times by finding fabrics and arranging dresses for models' (Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, 1904, II, p.196). The album contains a letter which bears this out. 'Dear Aglaia', he writes, 'I have measured Giacinto - here are such measurements as an unskilled tailor can make - I have measured round him - and down him - is it enough? also how kind & helpful you are - & I am ashamed to give you such trouble'. Giacinto must have been one of the Italian models who were so much employed by Victorian artists, and there follows a diagram of his body with measurements for a 'leather coat', apparently in the Greek style. The many other sketches of dresses and accessories which the album contains may also have been made to help Aglaia make studio properties. One sketch is on a piece of paper inscribed 'wait for answer/Mrs Coronio', another is on writing paper headed 'I Holland Park, W'. This was the house of her brother Alexander, who created there one of the great 'aesthetic' interiors of the day, Burne-Jones being among the contributors. Aglaia herself lived next door at 1A.
The caricatures are the most beguiling part of the album. Throughout his life Burne-Jones was a prolific caricaturist, expressing in these drawings the abundant sense of humour which all accounts of him emphasise but which he rigidly excluded from his 'official' work. Many of them, again in marked contrast to his paintings and decorative designs, are rebelaisian in spirit, revelling particularly in images of obesity - sumo wrestlers, fat ladies caught in a strong wind or some other revealing situation, or savage parodies of his bête noire, Rubens. Graham Robertson believed that this obsession had something to do with the rather straightlaced atmosphere created by his high-minded wife, Georgiana. 'EB-J's surroundings', he wrote, 'were so extremely correct and "proper" that I think he had to break out occasionally'.
Among the most familiar of Burne-Jones's humorous drawings are the self-caricatures, in which he fosters the myth that he is very old, pathetically emaciated, and incredibly shabbily dressed, and those of William Morris, in which he takes an affectionate swipe at his friend's foibles, portraying him as the obsessively absorbed craftsman, the slave-driving plutocrat, or the bon viveur with a tendency to put on weight (more obesity). The album includes examples of both types, as well as a caricature of Val Prinsep (fig.2), the pupil of G.F. Watts who joined Morris and Burne-Jones in painting the Oxford Union murals in 1857 and went on to become a successful academic artist. The ten drawings of Morris, probably dating from the late 1860s and the 1870s, are particularly notable. The two showing him doing needlework (fig.5) recall the well-known sketch of him lecturing on weaving, now in the Morris Gallery at Walthamstow, and that of him in his bath-tub is also a familiar image; another example is reproduced in Fiona MacCarthy's recent biography of Morris, p.117. But those in which he tries to do acrobatics are more unusual. The two inscribed 'Euston Sq' may have been drawn at 56 Euston Square, where William Michael Rossetti and his family lived for many years from 1867, although it is conceivable that it was in Euston and not Cavendish Square that Morris did the cartwheels recalled by Luke Ionides. The drawing of Morris crawling under a bed is very similar to one in the Violet Hunt papers that were sold in these Rooms on 6 November 1995, lot 111A (repr. in cat.). Violet Hunt attributed that drawing to William Blake Richmond, but the discovery of the present sketch prompts the question whether is could not be by Burne-Jones.
The album also contains some of the whimsical drawings that Burne-Jones was always making. Connoisseurs will recognise such familiar themes as the amourous love-birds and the 'wallypug' (fig.8), one of a series of amiable mythical beasts (the 'phlumbudge', a fat little bird, was another) with which he entertained children - children, that is, of all ages, including, as his wife put it, 'the child that was always in himself'. The sketch of a bedroom with bottles of brandy, gin and rum prominently displayed on the mantlepiece - perhaps made for a friend whom he knew to be the soul of temperance - is another characteristic touch.
On a more art-historical level, the drawings include many which can be identified as sketches for paintings. Among these are The Arming of Perseus, one of the Perseus series commissioned by Arthur Balfour in 1875, The Golden Stairs, that supreme expression of 'aesthetic' values, exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880, The Wheel of Fortune, shown there in 1883 and said to have been Burne-Jones's own favourite among his pictures, and the Briar Rose series, the exhibition of which at Agnew's in 1890 marked the climax of his career. Some of the sketches of 'Byzantine' dresses may be connected with such late works as The Star of Bethlehem and Arthur in Avalon, while the Dantesque figure of Love among roses recalls a magnificent design for needlework made for Frances Graham about 1880 and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A sketch of an open book provides interesting information about Burne-Jones's visual sources, being copied from the painting of the Virgin Mary in the upper part of Van Eyck's Ghent alterpiece.
Inserted near the end of the album is a bookplate made for Herbert George Fordham Odsey. This is not a name familiar to Pre-Raphaelite scholarship, but the pencil inscription - 'Done in 1901' - may be in the hand of Sydney Cockerell, Morris's amanuensis during the last years of his life and secretary to the Kelmscott Press. The bookplate itself may be by Charles William Sherborn (1831-1912), the most notable exponent of the engraved bookplate of the period, whom Cockerell certainly knew.
The pigskin spine and oak boards of the binding recalled the deluxe copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer, the crowning achievement of the Kelmscott Press, published in 1896. Forty-eight copies were bound in full white pigskin over oak boards by the Doves Bindery, set up near Morris's house in Hammersmith by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson in 1893; and the album too might be the Bindery's work. An unidentified stamp at the base of the leatherwork inside the back cover would seem to provide a clue to this problem.