Lot 4
  • 4

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S.

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S.
  • Portrait of Maria Zambaco
  • signed with initials with a cartouche l.r.
  • chalk
  • 35 by 28cm., 14 by 11in.


L.S. Lowry, Station Road, Mottram, Longdendale, from whom purchased c.1965 by the father of the present owner


The sheet has been laid down. There are a few areas of staining to the background. Otherwise the work appears to be in good condition. Held in a simple frame and under glass. Examined out of its frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

'Her glorious red hair and almost phosphorescent white skin... it is not hard to see how Burne-Jones was seduced by the sexual promise she spectacularly offered... Some of the drawings he made of Maria as preparatory studies were so personal and meaningful he hoarded them for decades... It is not surprising that he wanted to hang on to these records of a new transfixing and alarming erotic consciousness.' (Fiona MacCarthy, The Last PreRaphaelite - Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian imagination, 2011, p.204-8)

The sensitive use of red chalk dates this drawing on stylistic grounds to c.1867-1869, the early years of Burne-Jones' and Zambaco's infatuation with each other. It is comparable with the studies he made of her for The Wine of Circe (an example of which is at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton), a dynamic drawing entitled Cassandra (Victoria & Albert Museum) and a portrait of her in Greek costume (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery). Maria Terpsithia Cassavetti (1843-1914) was born in Athens into a wealthy Greek shipping family who formed part of the influential Hellenic community in London. Her cousin was Maria Spartali whose self-portrait and portrayal by Rossetti are included in this sale. After the death of her father in 1858, Maria inherited the enormous sum of £80,000 and two years later she married Demetrius Zambaco, a doctor in Paris, twelve years her senior. The marriage broke down and she left him in 1866 and returned to London with her two children, to live with her mother Euphrosyne. Dr Zambaco was pressurised by the Cassavetti family to return her large dowry but it seems that he refused to divorce her and when she died in 1914 her death certificate recorded her as a widow. Although she may have remained married to Zambaco, Maria was free again and to celebrate her return home Euphrosyne commissioned Burne-Jones to paint Maria's portrait (Clemens Sels Museum, Nuess). The watercolour portrait is a remarkably frank declaration of his awakening love for her and it must have been clear to all how they felt about one another. By the summer of 1868 they were passionately in love and their can be little doubt that it had been consummated.

Burne-Jones was infatuated with Zambaco but by 1868 he was exhausted by the emotional strain of the affair and attempted to break-off their liaison. In January 1869 their relationship reached a climax and following an argument he fled to Rome with William Morris, leaving 'the Greek damsel beating up the quarters of all his friends for him, howling like Cassandra... I hear today however, that Top [Morris] and Ned [Burne-Jones] got no further than Dover... She [Zambaco] provided herself with laudanum for two at least, and insisted on winding up matters in Lord Holland's Lane. Ned didn't see it, when she tried to drown herself in the water in front of Browning's house - bobbies collaring Ned who was rolling with her on the stones to prevent it, and God knows what else.' (Letter from Rossetti to Ford Madox Brown) The tempestuous relationship continued until 1875 and even after it was terminated, they stayed in correspondence until 1888. Burne-Jones confided to a friend that it was Maria's infidelity with another man that ended the relationship in 1875 when she returned to Paris and pursued a career as a medalist and sculptor. 

Burne-Jones and Zambaco's passionate relationship resulted in some of the most remarkably sensuous and intense female portraits of the era. They are comparable with the portraits of Jane Morris created by Rossetti, who also depicted Zambaco several times in 1869 and wrote to Jane in 1870 about her; 'I like her very much and am sure that her love is all to her. She is really extremely beautiful when one gets to study her face.' The studies that Burne-Jones made at that time, including the present one, encapsulate the intensity of his love for her. As Andrea Rose wrote; 'That he still loved her is apparent from the large number of portraits he made of her between 1869-71. For the most part they are pencil drawings, precise and sharply drawn and without sentimentality, but at the same time exquisite evocations of Maria's unhappy love for the artist.' (Andrea Rose, Pre-Raphaelite Portraits, 1981, p.28) 

The position of Maria's head and the voluminous sleeve of her gown in the present drawing are similar to the portrait commissioned by Euphrosyne Cassavetti (although reversed) and it is possible that it was made as a very early study for the portrait. The artist described Maria as having 'a wonderful head, neither profile was like the other quite, and the full face was different again.' (Letter to Helen Gaskell, January 1893) The roses are clear symbols of love but it is the tender way that Burne-Jones captured her expression that demonstrates his amorous feelings towards her.

The drawing was given to the father of the present owner by the artist L.S. Lowry, whose love of Pre-Raphaelite art is well-known, although this appears to be the only drawing by Burne-Jones that he possessed. It hung in the narrow entrance passage at Lowry's home on Station Road in Mottram.