'The Beguiling of Merlin' 1872-7
Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898)
Oil on canvas, 186 x 111cm
Accession Number LL3121
This story is taken from the Arthurian Legends, which were the artist’s favourite subjects. Merlin had fallen in love with Nimue (also called Nimiane, Vivian or Vivien). She profited from his infatuation by learning his skills in enchantment. Here she is shown sending Merlin into a deep sleep.
The intensity and close relationship between the two figures may be read as a reflection of the artist’s own private life. Burne-Jones had become infatuated with one of his admirers, Mary Zambaco (a member of the Ionides family who were important patrons of contemporary art in 19th century London) in the 1860s. They remained close during the early 1870s.
The long sinuous lines of Nimue’s figure and of the hawthorn trees behind still entrance the spectator, just as they entranced Merlin in the legend and contemporaries of Burne-Jones. The writer Oscar Wilde described the work as being ‘full of magic.’
An extended study of 'The Beguiling of Merlin' is also available online as part of our Artwork of the Month series.