Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910


Designs for 'The Story of Perseus' [see also nos.94 and 95]

93 The Call of Perseus; Perseus and the Graiae; Perseus and the Nereids 1875-6

Bodycolour, gold paint and pen and ink on buff paper 36.7 x 102.7 (14 1/2 x 40 3/8)
Prov: By descent to the artist's son, Sir Philip Burne-Jones, from whom bt by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Exh: Burlington Fine Arts Club 1899 (116); Chantrey Exhibition 1949 (73); Tate Gallery 1993 (54); Rome 1996 (41, repr. in col.)
Lit: Löcher 1973, pp.98-100, pl.19

Tate Gallery. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919

These sheets are early studies for the 'Perseus Series', a large-scale decorative scheme commissioned in 1875 by the Conservative politician Arthur Balfour for the music room of his London house, 4 Carlton Gardens. Burne-Jones took considerable care over the initial research for the project, writing to his son Philip at Whitsun 1875 'I have worked at the British Museum lately looking up all the most ancient ways of pourtraying Medusa, and they are very few but very interesting, and I know much more about it than I did' (quoted G.B.-J. 1904, II, p.58). Lady Burne-Jones recalled that the subject of this major project seems to have come about spontaneously when

Mr Arthur Balfour had come with Lady Airlie one day to the Grange, and the result of his then making the acquaintance of Edward and his art had been an important commission. He wished for a set of pictures to ornament a music room in his house: the subject of the Perseus story was soon agreed upon, and much of the year went in arranging a scheme and making studies for the different pictures. There were to be eight of them, for special spaces, and at first Edward intended them to have a setting of ornamental raised plaster, the design for which is seen in a small watercolour that he made of the whole series: but finally this idea was given up. The Medusa part of the legend, which attracted him most, he studied deeply; the Andromeda scenes, though they came later in the story, were finished first.
(G.B.-J. 1904, II, p.60)
The extent and scale of the ornamental foliate plasterwork surrounding Burne-Jones's pictures is most clearly appreciated in no.94. The panels over the doors were originally also intended to be executed in gesso relief shown clearly in all three sheets, although Burne-Jones later decided to execute these subjects in oils along with the other panels. Work proceeded slowly; he made full-sized gouache cartoons of each of the subjects, now in Southampton Art Gallery, and the oils were never fully completed (see no.113). There are a number of differences between the final designs and the initial studies shown here.

Robert Upstone

Published in:
Andrew Wilton, Robert Upstone, and others, The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.227-8 no.93, reproduced in colour p.227