The Beguiling of Merlin
This story is taken from Arthurian Legend, which was the artist’s favourite subject. 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. In the 1860s, 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. They remained close during the early 1870s. The viewer is entranced by the long sinuous lines of Nimue’s figure and the hawthorn trees behind, just as they entranced Merlin and contemporaries of Burne-Jones. The writer, Oscar Wilde, described the work as being ‘full of magic’.