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Study of a Head

BURNE-JONES, Sir Edward (1833 - 1898)

[image: Study of a Head]

Media: oil on panel

Size: 35.5 x 25.6 cm

Acquired: 1921; Transfer; Turner House

Accession Number: NMW A 244

This is an oil study of one of the singing boys in the background of Edward Burne-Jones’s best-known painting King Copetua and the Beggar Maid (1884, Tate). The painting was first planned in the mid-1870s and Burne-Jones spent a number of years working out the composition in a series of drawings and watercolours, but most of the work for the final painting was undertaken during 1883 and the beginning of 1884. It was completed and exhibited at Grosvenor Gallery in London in spring 1884.

The model for the singer is probably Jessie Keene (b.1872), or possibly her older sister Laura (b.1867/8), who also modelled for painter James McNeill Whistler in the 1880s. Their mother, Annie, was a regular model for Burne-Jones, her likeness apparently appearing in works such as The Golden Stairs (1880, Tate). Another sister, Bessie (b.1878/9), also went on to become a favourite model and is portrayed in works such as Vespertina Quies (1893, Tate) and Love Among the Ruins (1894, Wightwick Manor, National Trust).

9 comments

Christopher j Vibart on 7 October 2014, 16:01

This is very interesting indeed ? Why you ask well it so happens that Henry Vibart is my great grandfather - my grandfather is one of three boys and two girls - John Henry Vibart - and I am the son of my late father Ian Francis Vibart - in addition to this you have been talking to Anne Wall - the daughter of one of two sisters of my grandfather - her name is Myrtle Vibart , so you have a little background you maybe able to confirm the following -that is - that there is somewhere a painting of a girl reclining in the cresent of a moon - my father in his notes seems to be of the understanding that girl is Taigi Keene - ? Is there any other information that can be shared kind regard Christopher j Vibart

Alice Munro-Faure on 17 September 2013, 12:42

A message for Anne Wall: I, like Henry Sire, was most interested to hear that you are a descendant of Taigi Vibart nee Keene. I am presently trying to discover more about Taigi's sister Jessie and would therefore love to get in contact with you. As you note she married William Wontner, who is the main subject of my research. In anticipation that you read this Anne, please contact the Curator of Historic Art (copying this message) who can then forward you on my personal contact details. many thanks
Alice Munro-Faure

Mercedes Blanco on 11 September 2013, 14:35

I've been researching about this subject; the maiden name of Mrs Keene (the mother) is Anne Edwards, and there were four Keene sisters: Taigi (1867), Laura (1868), Jessie (1872) and Bessie (1878).
You can find more information in my blog entry http://sitioparatodo.blogspot.com/2013/09/keene-mountain-nymph-sweet-liberty-identity.html (it's in spanish, but includes a translation gadget)

Henry Sire on 11 September 2013, 09:28

Dear Anne Wall,

I have just been alerted to your message. Charles Joseph Keene was a first cousin of my great-grandmother Adelaide Sire, nee Keene, so you are my fourth cousin and the closest relation, equal with the Conynghams (do you know about them?) that I have so far discovered through the Keenes.

Your message upsets the deductions I had made: I was under the impression that Charles Keene had three daughters: Laura (who acted under the stage name Taigi), Jessie and Bessie. Can you put me right about this?

Henry Sire.

Anne Wall on 24 July 2013, 14:46

Charles Joseph Keene , was my great grand father, on my mothers' side I knew my aunts
Laura,and Jesse ( who married artist Wiliam Wontner,) but not Bessie ,unless she changed her name,for the stage, as my grandmothers name was Taigi .she played for the royal Shakespeare company in London 1883 on to about 1891,marrying James Henry Vibart ,actor .when starting a family , the youngest being my mother,Myrtle.

Graham Davies on 26 June 2012, 09:27

Dear Mr. Sire, thank you for your follow up comment, if you could email rachel.flynn@museumwales.ac.uk, then we will be able to respond via email.
Many thanks,
Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgueddfa Cymru

Henry Sire on 24 June 2012, 08:49

Thank you for your reply. I wonder if it would be possible to identify the pictures of Burne-Jones that feature his model Annie Keene, whose distinctive appearance can be seen from the three photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron that I mentioned (all viewable on line).

Amgueddfa Cymru on 18 June 2012, 10:59

Dear Mr Sire, Thank you for your comment and the information about the Keene family. The models Burne-Jones used are notoriously difficult to firmly identify and this has caused some confusion in the literature about his work. Your comment has helped us to clarify and update our records for which we are very grateful.
Rachel Flynn, Assistant Curator Historic Art

Henry Sire on 31 May 2012, 13:02

I hope that an exchange of information may help to elucidate the identity of this model.
Bessie Keene belonged to a family of artist's models. Her father Charles Joseph Keene, who was a first cousin of my great-grandmother Adelaide Keene, was evidently an amateur artist, though he worked as an accountant. He married by 1866 Annie --- (born 1842/3) who was an artist's model, sitting to Charles himself and other artists. She appears in 1866 as the model for Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs "The Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty", "Lady Clara Vere de Vere" and "Cassiopeia". She was also a favourite model of Burne-Jones's, though I don't know in what paintings. The Keenes had three daughters:
1. Laura, born 1867/8, who sat as a model for Whistler in the late 1880s (again, I don't know in what paintings)
2. Jessie Marguerite, 1872-1950, who married the artist William Wontner and also sat as a model to him.
3. Bessie. born 1878/9, who became a favourite model of Burne-Jones's from about 1893, appearing in "Love among the Ruins", "Vespertina Quies" and "Aurora".
Clearly therefore the model for the above study is not Bessie's daughter (whatever information suggested this is presumably a confusion with her mother Annie). Nor can it be Bessie herself as the picture is from 1884. Could it be Laura or more probably Jessie?
I would remark that Charles Joseph Keene's first cousin William Keene lived in the 1870s in North End Road, very close to Burne-Jones.

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