We are exhibiting at TEFAF Maastricht

10-18 March, 2018 | Stand 335


​MECC, Forum 100, 6229 Maastricht, Netherlands




This drawing of 1871, described by Professor Martin Postle as ‘among the finest of Mary Zambaco’, is a smouldering psycho-sexual image of the Greek beauty who became Burne-Jones' lover. The febrile drawing of her filigree hair, the delicate shading of her skin, her contorted posture and the compressed format are powerfully expressive of his obsession with her. Maria Zambaco and her cousins Marie Spartali and Aglaia Coronio - all daughters of wealthy ex-patriate Greeks - were nicknamed ‘The Three Graces’ in London, where they were famed for their looks, wealth, independence of mind and their intelligence. Maria, uninhibited and estranged from her husband (a slightly disreputable doctor) was, as Fiona MacCarthy puts it, 'a striking figure with “almost phosphorescent” white skin and come-hither glorious red hair’.  She was an aspiring artist, trained at the Slade - Burne-Jones gave her lessons in his studio and she sat to him for Cupid in 1866, when her mother commissioned Cupid and Psyche from him. He had 'dispensed with most other models now, in favour of Maria Zambaco’s delicate, distinctly Grecian features, her large expressive eyes, well-sculpted nose and neatly pointed chin’.  Her features haunted Burne-Jones’ paintings: Pygmalion and the Image (1875-8), as the statue created to be worshipped by the artist; as his enchantress in the The Wine of Circe (1870); his goddess in Venus Concordia and Venus Discordia (1870-3); and his temptress in The Beguiling of Merlin (1872-7), the pursuit of the ancient magician by the sexually predatory Nimuë. Their tumultuous affair was doomed, for, despite Maria’s threats of suicide in 1869, Burne-Jones would not leave his wife for her. There was a public scandal in 1870, when Burne-Jones’ watercolour Phyllis and Demophoon was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society’s annual exhibition. Both figures, lovers from Ovid’s Heroides, were uncompromisingly naked and their features were unmistakably Maria’s. After two weeks of complaints, Burne-Jones removed the picture. Burne-Jones never completely deserted Maria, perhaps visiting her in Paris and writing to her, and she reportedly rented a studio next to his in the 1880s. Her face continued to haunt his paintings long after their affair had ended.  
Madeline Green lived and painted for most of her life in Ealing, West London, where she had a studio near her parents' house. She won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, which she attended 1906-1911. She quickly found her unique style and went on to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy in London, the Glasgow Institute and, unusually for a British artist, the Paris Salon. In 1925, the magazine Le Petit Parisien described one of her pictures as ‘l’etrange interieur exsangue de Madeline Green’ (‘... strange pale interior ...’). The famous art dealer Joseph Duveen gave her publicity by buying her picture The Future in 1927 and giving it to Manchester Art Gallery. Green wrote that it was 'done in body colour underneath, and glazed with pure colour and oil … I always paint in this way - and although it takes a time, I don't think the same effect can be obtained otherwise.’  Green was a 'loner', not belonging to any group or school. From her artistically isolated world in Ealing, where she lived unmarried for most of her working life, she projected herself through her pictures, wearing different costumes as if role-playing. She cast herself variously as a mother and a wife, as a costermonger, as a dancer, as sinner and saint - or simply in a variety of different costumes and hats, open-mouthed and staring directly out of her pictures. She often painted herself twice, even thrice, in front of her big studio window, in conversation pieces in which her other selves provoke introspective psychological dialogue, but defy obvious meaning. In this fine example, the space between her and her doppelgänger is bridged by a single arm, but the figures remain distinct. One flirtatiously tries on a blue hat, but is otherwise dressed in virginal white; the other displays a wedding ring and a daring red scarf.