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Edward Burne-Jones, Female Figure (Study for Le Chant d’Amour)

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Female Figure (Study for Le Chant d’Amour)
Date
Signed and dated lower left: '1863'
Medium and support
Black and red chalk on paper
Dimensions
Overall height: 31 cm, Overall width: 36 cm
Artist
Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Catalogue Number
MM60

Description

William Graham’s first acquisition of a work by Edward Burne-Jones was the watercolour Le Chant d’Amour (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), purchased shortly after it was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society, London, in 1866. The painting was inspired by a refrain from a Breton folk ballad: ‘Hélas! je sais un chant d’amour/ Triste ou gai, tour à tour’ (‘Alas, I know a love song,/ Sad or happy, each in turn’). Burne-Jones completed an almost identical version of the painting in oil (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 1878, and which the American novelist Henry James admiringly compared to ‘some mellow Giorgione or some richly-glowing Titian.’1 This chalk study features the figure of a kneeling woman from the centre of Burne-Jones’s watercolour Chant d’Amour. The figure was probably modelled on Graham’s eldest daughter, Frances (later Lady Horner; 1854–1940), for whom Burne-Jones had a platonic infatuation. This study of the central kneeling figure is set on white drawing paper, the well-detailed folds and contours of her dress, face and hair drawn in black chalk while the edge of the portable organ is drawn in red chalk.

Music – the central theme of Le Chant d’Amour – was important to the Graham family. William Graham wrote hymns, which he played on the family organ. His wife was an accomplished pianist, who had studied under Liszt and Mendelssohn, and she passed on this talent to their children. The family was part of an amateur musical circle that included A. J. Balfour, the Austin Leighs, William Gladstone and the Lytteltons.

by Devon Cox

Footnotes

  1. Henry James, ‘The London Exhibitions: The Grosvenor Gallery’, The Nation, 23 May 1878, p. 338, repr. in John L. Sweeney, ed., ‘The Painter’s Eye’, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1956, pp. 162–4.

    1

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