In 1872 Burne-Jones began work on the painting 'The Beguiling of Merlin', which was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 (it is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery). After revealing the secrets of his magic to Nimue, a lady of the lake, Merlin was imprisoned by her in a hawthorn tree. This was a story Burne-Jones had already illustrated in a mural design on the walls of the Oxford Union building and as a gouache for James Leathart. After 1870, when the crisis of Burne-Jones's involvement with Maria Zambaco had come to a head, the tale took on a deeply personal meaning for him. These studies record the early stages of Burne-Jones's search for a satisfactory form for the head of Merlin.
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