1 THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE
EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
114.3 x 53.4 (45 x 21)
W.Connal, sale Christie's 14 March 1908 (8), bought Gooden
and Fox for 250 gns; Alexander Henderson; H.W.Henderson, sale
Christie's 4 June 1948 (44), bought Barbizon House for 100
gns; Cecil French.
Glasgow Institute 1888; Fulham 1967 (5); Sheffield 1971 (105);
Arts Council 1975 (124); Fulham 1983 (5).
Bell, p.63; de Lisle, p.18-3; Fitzger-al-d, pp.140, 245, 305.
gigantic blue-gowned female figure of Fortune, at the left,
turns an upright wheel on which are fixed two near naked male
figures, one above the other, the upper figure, the Slave,
rests his right foot on the crowned head of the King below,
beneath the King is the wreathed head and shoulders of a third
man, the Poet.
wheel first appears in classical antiquity as a metaphor for
the vicissitudes of life for it raises the hopeful and abases
the proud. It appears in mediaeval and renaissance art. Burne-Jones
would certainly have known of Durer's engraving of Fortune.
are at least seven versions of The Wheel of Fortune
including four oils. The largest and finest of these, 1877-83
(199 x 100), in the Musée d'Orsay (Palais de Tokyo)
Paris, was ex-hibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883. Two
smaller oil versions are those of 1871-7 (151 x 72.8) in The
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and c.1882 (152 x
73.7), an unfinished monochrome, in The National Museum of
Wales, Cardiff. A further oil (134.6 x 66) was in the collection
of Lord Leverhulme, sold Knight, Frank and Rutley, 9-17 November
1925 (1066), the present whereabouts are unknown to the compiler.
There are gouaches at Carlisle City Art Gallery, c.1870 (49.5
x 24.1), which differs from the later compositions as Fortune
stands within her wheel, and The Watts Gallery Compton, 1871,
with companion paintings of Fame, Love and Oblivion
(each 30 x 16), which were also in Cecil French's collec-tion.
are studies for the composition in a sketchbook, c.1882-3,
in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, a pencil study for the King
(27.1 x 18) of 1879 in the British Museum, 1967-10-14-47,
(wrongly inscribed by Burne-Jones as a study for the Slave,
a mistake repeated by J.A.Gere in Pre-Raphaelite Drawings
in the British Museum, 1994), and a chalk study for the
Slave, c.1871 (62.5 x 27.5) in the National Gallery of Victoria,
in some versions, was posed for by the actress Lillie Langtry
(1853-1929), in about 1876-7. She confirmed this to the Trustees
of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1909 and recorded the
sittings in her autobiography, The Days I Knew, 1925;
"Clad in grey draperies, a tall, very tall figure, I
am depicted with resolute and pitiless face, turning a huge
wheel on which kings, princes, statesmen, millionaires and
others rise, reach the top, and then fall, to be crushed by
the ever-revolving wheel of Fate - a cruel picture, but horribly
Christian, in the catalogue of the Tate Gallery Pre-Raphaelite
exhibition, 1984, pp.236/7, records that Fortune's head-dress
was based on "a quaint little bonnet" designed by
Mrs. Comyns Carr, the wife of a director of the Grosvenor
Gallery, who was also responsible for several of Ellen Terry's
Burne-Jones began designing The Wheel of Fortune in
1871, after his first visit to Rome, where he had studied
the Vatican frescoes. The painting owes obvious debts to Michaelangelo;
Fortune is derived from the Sibyls of the Sistine Chapel
ceiling and the naked males, with their exaggerated musculature
and contraposto poses, are related to the Dying Slave,
in the Louvre, The Captives, in the Accademia, Florence, which
he had sketched in 1871, and the National Gallery Deposition.
The painting was developed from the left hand composition
of four upright allegorical designs, the others being Fame,
Love and Oblivion, which divided the predella panels of
a projected Troy Triptych conceived by Burne-Jones
in 1870. The scheme was never carried out but is recorded
in an unfinished oil, mainly by assistants, in Birmingham
City Art Gallery (273 x 294.6) begun in 1870.
design of the Troy Triptych is in the form of an Italian
Renaissance altarpiece which Harrison and Waters, p.103, identify
as Mantegna's San Zeno Triptych, painted 1475-59, in Verona,
which Burne-Jones saw during his stay in Italy in 1862.
Trojan Wars were of abiding interest to Burne-Jones and William
Morris, Morris's Trojan poems, published posthumously, were
written between 1857 and 1863 and Burne-Jones's projected
Trojan murals, for William and Jane Morris's first home, Red
House, Bexleyheath, were devised in 1861. According to Burne-Jones
the subject still fascinated them in the 1890s.