Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Dorigen of Bretagne
Watercolour and bodycolour.
15 1/4 x 11 inches
This watercolour relates to Burne-Jones’ 1871 watercolour Dorigen Cursing the Rocks, in the V&A, which is a similar size and subject - but instead of the rocks outside, mounted knights canter by. The subject of our slightly earlier picture may be from a poem by William Morris - perhaps the Sleeve of Gold or Scenes from the Fall of Troy. Burne-Jones often played with themes in this way. The knights in the window closely relate to a watercolour that was once in the collection of the Ionides family (Maas Gallery, 2015), dated 1869.
This was a time of Burne-Jones’ life when, a married man, he was most entangled with his love, muse and model Maria Zambaco, who features obsessively in his work from this period. Our heroine lies in a claustrophobic space - enclosed and unreal - more like a cell than a bower, secluded from the outside world which goes by in a blur. At the foot of her bed lies an empty urn and a medieval harp known as a psaltery, but music is absent and the mood is sombre. It is painted with the dry bodycolour he often favoured.