Head of May Morris
Pencil; initialled, Leicester Galleries label
8 x 6 inches
Private Collection, UK
Possibly Exhibition of drawings and studies by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bart, Leicester Galleries 1904, no. 45, as one of the Studies for Heads in Laus Veneris
Illustrated as Head Study in Ernest Chesneau's Artistes Anglais Contemporains, London and Paris 1887, p 15
Burne-Jones returned from a trip to Italy in 1871 with renewed admiration for the drawings of Michelangelo, which lasted him throughout the decade. This drawing is in his looser Michelangelesque manner, which Burne- Jones appears to have reserved for heads without drapery, perhaps because it was effective in catching the momentary turn of a head, a glance of the eyes or the ‘toss’ of a full head of hair. The drawing relates most closely to the head of the leftmost attendant at the back of Laus Veneris, which he was working on in the early-to-mid ‘70s. The drawing has the unmistakable features of May Morris (cf. photographs of her taken in 1874, aged 12, in the National Portrait Gallery), who modelled for the figure carrying a violin in The Golden Stairs. Several drawings of
May by Rossetti done at the same time bear out the similarity — especially her head three times in Rosa Triplex (1874). May Morris was the daughter of William Morris, Burne-Jones’s best friend. She became a talented embroideress, designer, jeweller, editor — and a socialist, like her father.
‘The enthusiasm with which he made these drawings never diminished ... [many] have only a tangential relationship with a painting, or indeed take on an independent life of their own. It was as if he were constantly prepared to abandon the stern business of study-making and go off on a sort of graphic revel, captivated by some new pose, the chance arrangement of a piece of drapery, or a fleeting expression on the face of a model to whom he was currently in thrall. That he himself saw his drawings as autonomous works of art is clear from the way he treated them, adorning them with decorative titles and signatures, turning them into presentation sheets by giving them, suitably inscribed, to friends, and exhibiting many in his lifetime. If he was one of the greatest Victorian draughtsmen, he was also one of the most self-conscious’ (Stephen Wildman and John Christian, Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, pp 148/9).