Self Portrait by an Easel

PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

Self Portrait by an Easel (England, c.1867)

Not for Sale Not for Sale
Pencil on an envelope


12.00cm high
6.50cm wide
(4.72 inches high)
(2.56 inches wide)
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Maria Zambaco; by descent to her great-niece:
Mrs Wyndham Milligan; sold at:
Sotheby's Belgravia, 29th June 1976, Lot 223
Peter Nahum Ltd 1993; sold to:
Private collection USA; to 2009

Description / Expertise

Burne-Jones drew this little caricature of himself as a very special gift to his muse and lover, Maria Zambaco, at a highly-charged and very vulnerable point in his life. Maria was probably the model for the composition on the easel.

Burne-Jones produced many caricatures of himself and his struggles with his work, often showing himself prematurely aged by the demands of his art. His obsession with the ageing process can be traced even in the caricatures made in his early twenties; at the time that Burne-Jones executed this work he was aged about thirty-four. His anxiety about the passage of time and his fear of old age became more acute as he did indeed begin to grow old and became increasingly conscious of the years that separated him from the younger women with whom he fell in love. Humorous exaggeration was a way of exorcising this concern.

A date in the mid or late 1860's is likely for this drawing as the composition of the picture on the easel is similar to that of Fair Rosamund, a watercolour of 1863. It is also perhaps a preliminary idea for Sybilla Delphica of 1868 and a reversal of the pose of Summer, 1869, for which Maria Zambaco is the model. The pose reemerges almost twenty years later in the tapestry of Pomona.