Katie's collection


Geraldine Norman
Saturday 03 June 1995 23:02

A REMARKABLE group of paintings and drawings by Sir Edward Burne- Jones, the much feted late-Victorian master, have been sent for sale at Sotheby's by a descendent of one of his closest friends, Lady Elizabeth Lewis. She was a great beauty and Burne-Jones may well have been in love with her - discreet relatives have destroyed their letters to each other.

But Burne-Jones's enchanting letters to Lady Elizabeth's youngest daughter, Katie, survive, filled with lively drawings and anecdotes. Katie herself gave them to the British Museum and they have been published twice, once by Graham Robertson in 1925 and again in 1988 by John Christian as Letters to Katie.

A Burne-Jones portrait of Katie Lewis is the star turn of Sotheby's sale on 7 June. She is shown at the age of eight in 1886, stretched out on a sofa in a velvet dress, reading a book; her pet dog is curled up on her feet. Sotheby's are expecting to get between pounds 500,000 and pounds 700,000 for it. A careful chalk study for the painting is also included, estimated at pounds 12,000-pounds 18,000, and a rough pencil sketch of Katie at about four years old (pounds 600-pounds 800).

Elizabeth Lewis was married to one of the leading solicitors of the day, Sir George Henry Lewis. He extricated the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, from the Tranby-Croft baccarat scandal (when the prince was subpoenaed as a witness in a libel case), advised Whistler after he was bankrupted by suing the art critic John Ruskin for libel, and helped both Oscar Wilde and his much blackmailed friend, Lord Alfred Douglas. Burne-Jones, when presenting Katie's portrait to her parents, said Lewis was "the terror of the aristocracy of England and knows enough to hang half the Dukes and Duchesses in the Kingdom".

The paintings passed through Katie to her niece, Eliza-beth Wansborough, who died at 98 in March. They have been sent for sale by Mrs Wansborough's daughter, Mrs Miriam James, the Lewises' great-granddaughter.

The Lewises were exceptionally close to Burne-Jones, even spending holidays with him in France. But many leading artists were regular visitors at their majestic town house at 88 Portland Place and country retreat at Walton-on-Thames, including Whistler, Alma-Tadema and Sargent. The latter also painted portraits of all the family.

The Sotheby sale contains a particularly charming picture of Alma-Tadema's two daughters as children. It was painted in 1873 and is expected to fetch pounds 60,000-pounds 90,000. Katie Lewis bought it at a Sotheby auction in 1959. There is also a watercolour sketch of Sir George Lewis in his garden by Jules Bastien-Lepage, a French artist who had a formidable reputation among his contemporaries (estimate pounds 1,500-pounds 2,000). And there is a very pretty pastel sketch of Katie as a child in a feathered bonnet by George Henry Boughton RA (estimate pounds 800- pounds 1,200).

Most of the workss are, however, by Burne-Jones. They include a 4ft panel painting of Girls in a Meadow, probably a sketch for the decoration he made on a piano for his friend George Price Boyce (estimate pounds 15,000-pounds 20,000) and a watercolour study of A Musician, an unearthly girl playing a stringed instrument (pounds 12,000-pounds 18,000).

Geraldine Norman

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