Study of the Head of Margaret Burne-Jones for King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid
Black, white and red chalks; inscribed 'pink everywhere- eyes light and blue/bluey'
17.75 x 11.75 inches
Margaret's personality was something of an enigma, as the portrait perhaps suggests. "Margaret is very difficult to know , " wrote Graham Robertson in 1936. "She is still almost as shy as when she was a child [they had known each other since the age of twelve], and has the Macdonald reticence and reserve [a reference to her maternal ancestry] developed to an abnormal degree." But, he added to his correspondent, who had recently met her for the first time, "I hope you could see her beauty through the veil of the years. The wonderful eyes are almost unchanged."
King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884, and our drawing probably dates from the winter before.
The painting became Burne-Jones's greatest success of the 1880s for its technical execution and its themes of power and wealth overborne by beauty and simplicity. It was heralded as the "picture of the year" by The Art Journal and "not only the finest work Mr Burne-Jones has ever painted, but one of the finest pictures ever painted by an Englishman" by The Times. The painting was exhibited in France in 1889, where its popularity earned Burne-Jones the Legion of Honour and began a vogue for his work. The artist's wife Georgiana Burne-Jones felt "this picture contained more of Edward's own qualities than any other he did."