The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt ARA (1833-1898)


Oil on canvas

151 x 73 cm.

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Compare version in Musée d'Orsay

Lillie Langtry, the Mistress of the Prince of Wales, sat for the head of Fortuna (or Dame Fortune), though, as Angus Trumble points out, "it is admittedly difficult to discern any clear likeness" to her in the "monumental figure of Dame Fortune [which] marked a departure from his earlier preference for winsome quattrocento maidens." According to Trumble, "the figure of Fortune is not simply an abstract symbol; towering above the chained and naked figures of king, poet and slave, she also embodies the awesome power of female beauty. In choosing a royal mistress as his model, Burne-Jones would [have] enjoyed the double edge to his image. He may even have been aware that his friend John Ruskin was said to have told Lillie Langtry: 'Beautiful women like you hold the fortunes of the world in your hands to make or mar'" (p. 82).

Edward Poynter, Burne-Jones's brother-in-law, used Langtry as the model for his painting of Helen of Troy.