OIL PAINTING: Pygmalion and the Image The Soul Attains, 1868
Burne-Jones first treated the story of Pygmalion in 1867 in a sequence of drawings for a proposed, but never published, illustrated edition of William Morris's The Earthly Paradise. This epic cycle of Morris's verses included his short poem "Pygmalion and the Image", which closely followed Ovid's story. In 1868 Burne-Jones started his first series of paintings of the story, distilling the narrative into four scenes. These were produced for Euphrosyne Cassavetti, the mother of Maria Zambaco, a beautiful young Greek sculptress with whom Burne-Jones had fallen passionately in love. Clearly fascinated by the story of Pygmalion, Burne-Jones made the second series of larger canvases exhibited here between 1875 and 1878. In both series he was exploring the creative power of physical desire, a state which enabled Pygmalion to make his perfect statue and Burne-Jones, in his years as Maria's lover, to produce his most original works. A study for Galatea dated 1870 is clearly Maria Zambaco's face, testimony to Burne-Jones's obsession with her and the connection in his mind with Pygmalion's love for his creation's perfection. In both painting cycles Burne-Jones diluted any resemblance to Maria.