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Study of a Head

BURNE-JONES, Sir Edward (1833 - 1898)

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 Cophetua 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).

Comments(15)

Sharlene Baker
14 April 2021, 14:47
I am interested to see this connection with Mrs.Keene who has been identified as the model for several of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs, like Sweet Liberty, that had previously been incorrectly identified as my great grandmother, Cyllena Wilson. Cyllena was adopted by Julia Margaret Cameron as an orphan teenager and was the model for many photographs in about 1867 including Rosalba and Rachel at the Well. According to my great aunt, Cyllena hated sitting for photographs especially being locked in a closet for Despair, and ran away on a ship to New York.
Henry Sire
19 November 2018, 12:14
Anne, if you publish the photos and paintings that you promised I for one shall be very interested. Your cousin, Henry Sire.
Anne Wall
25 June 2018, 15:46
I am Anne daughter of Myrtle, getting a bit older now 3 days to go 83 so thought it time to put on
Line what I know before it is too late, my mother never talked much about her grandmother I didn’t know her name though I realise now that I was named for her, she lived in Highgate after she married and became Mrs Keene , my mother told me she ran a coffee house ( it may have been a stall) there where Artists met ,mentioning Millais and others of the Romantic school. My grandmother Taigi became an actress ,Jessie married William Wontner,Artist who was mainly a portrait artist did well for some time but died in poverty,Jessie survived him . SisterLaura married a Mr Bagshaw ( banker) 1 son now deceased Monsignor Canon john Bagshawe I have some photos and paintings which I will put on line. Yours Anne Wall.
Tamar hager
2 February 2018, 23:13
Dear all
I lately published an article on Annie Keene in the Women History Review with the help of the information you supplied in this site with references to all of you. I could send you the article if you wish.
Best Regards
Tamar Hager
Amgueddfa Cymru
5 November 2014, 11:07
Dear Henry Sire,
Thank you for your comment, I have sent the enquirer a message privately to ask that he contacts you should he wish.
Many thanks
Graham Davies
Digital Media, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales


Henry Sire
5 November 2014, 09:52
Dear Christopher Vibart,

Would you be interested in corresponding with me for an exchange of family information? It would not be appropriate to do so on the Museum of Wales website. If so, will you post your email address on the site or shall I post mine?

Your cousin,

Henry Sire
Christopher j Vibart
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
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
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
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.
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