The tragic suicide of the artist's model, Aglaia Coronio, led to the eventual sale of her prized art collection.
An extraordinary work by leading Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones is estimated to sell for £150,000 – 200,000 ($240,000-400,000) at Bonhams 19th Century Picture sale on 23rd January 2013. ‘The Days of Creation’ is a superbly crafted pencil work created by the renowned artist in 1871 in preparation for his celebrated painting of the same title.
The artist gave the work to his close friend Aglaia Coronio, who frequently modelled for him and who counted other leading artists such as Rossetti and William Morris, among her friends. She was known for her formidable intelligence, sound judgement, humour and eccentricity and with her striking good looks she became one of the most recognised Pre-Raphaelite muses. Aglaia Coronio, her cousin Maria Zambaco and the artist Marie Spartali Stillman, who had a passionate affair with Burne-Jones, became known amongst friends as the Three Graces, appearing as a trio in Burne-Jones’ painting ‘The Mill’.
Aglaia was a welcome visitor to Burne-Jones’ and Watts’ studios, and according to Lady Burne-Jones, she “helped him [Burne-Jones] a hundred times by finding fabrics and arranging dresses for his models”.[i] It was most likely on one of these occasions that she acquired the present ‘Days of Creation’ as a token of the artist’s gratitude for her valued assistance.
By 1906 after suffering an unhappy marriage and the loss of several loved-ones, she tragically cut her life short. Grief stricken after the demise of her friends Rossetti, Morris and Burne-Jones, her sense of loss was compounded by the diminishing health and eventual death of her beloved daughter Calliope, who died on the 19th August, 1906. Distraught, the following day Aglaia Coronio took her own life by stabbing herself with a pair of scissors.
After her death, the majority of Aglaia Coronio’s impressive art collection, including 35 paintings and 12 drawings went under the hammer, although it appears that ‘The Days of Creation’ was not included in the sale. It is likely to have been saved just before the sale by Aglaia’s niece, Zoë Ionides.
‘The Days of Creation’ pencil work is a semi-independent work, executed as much for the artist’s personal pleasure as to mark a distinction between his stained glass designs and a fully completed easel work. It shows his superior skills as a draughtsman and includes subtle variations to the later oil painting which was based on this drawing. When the painted version of ‘The Days of Creation’ was unveiled at the Grosvenor gallery, it was heralded as a sensation and ensured Burne-Jones’ reputation as a leader of the Aesthetic movement.
The artist frequently returned to the theme of The Creation, which evolved out of designs for stained glass windows. The panels in this work were conceived as a complete picture and portray the story of The Creation as described in the first book of Genesis. Each panel shows a winged angel holding a crystal globe.
Charles O’Brien, Director of 19th Century Pictures said, “Burne-Jones rightfully earned his place as the leader of the Aesthetic movement. He was one of the finest draughtsmen of the 19th Century and this stunning work shows that his linear inspiration was rarely surpassed. There is such a tragic story attached to the original owner of this work, it makes the drawing all the more poignant.
“Having remained in private hands for most of its existence, the reappearance of ‘The Days of Creation’ cannot fail to arouse considerable interest, not only from Burne-Jones admirers but all who appreciate true beauty.”