Thursday, August 15, 2013

Edward Burne-Jones, A Gorgon (a fragment)

This is a fragment of an unfinished canvas representing the death of the gorgon Medusa. One of a series of ten designs illustrating the story of Perseus' search for Medusa and his rescue of Andromeda, the series was commissioned in 1875 by the young Tory politician Arthur Balfour, and was visualised as a frieze running round the music room at his London house, 4 Carlton Gardens. Burne-Jones originally planned to execute some of the designs as oil paintings and others as reliefs in gilt gesso on oak panels, but when the first of these panels (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff) was exhibited in 1878 it met with a hostile reception and he decided to treat all the designs as paintings. Full-scale cartoons in gouache are in the Southampton Art Gallery, and the final oil paintings, some of them unfinished, are in the Staatsgalerie at Stuttgart.

In The Death of Medusa, which was conceived as a painting from the outset, Perseus has just cut off the gorgon's head while her two sisters, greatly distressed, circle wildly. The present fragment comes from an early version of the composition and shows one of the two agitated sisters. The design was later altered radically and the figure's pose was changed. A preparatory study for the subject as it was originally conceived is illustrated here (fig. 1). For another, see Kurt Löcher, Der Perseus-Zyklus von Edward Burne-Jones, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 1973, fig. 71. 

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