Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pencil
  • 8 × 6 inches · 202 × 150 mm
  • Signed ‘E.B.J’ (bottom right)
    Drawn c.1875


  • Mrs Margaret Mackail (1866-1953), daughter of the artist;
  • Sir John Clermont Witt (1907-1982), collection stamp L.646a;
  • Christopher Witt, son of the above;
  • And by descent to 2024


  • Paris, Works by Sir Edward Burne-Jones Bart., 1897, no.165;
  • London, New Gallery, Winter Exhibition, 1898-9, no. 178.

This exceptionally refined head study was made by Burne-Jones in preparation for his monumental painting The Wheel of Fortune now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Completed in 1883 when it was shown at the Grosvenor Gallery, the composition went through a complex evolution. As Burne-Jones’s friend Graham Robertson noted: ‘He was pre-eminently a draughtsman… to draw was his natural mode of expression – line flowed from him almost without volition.’[1] Incisively worked, this beautiful head study demonstrates Burne-Jones’s exceptional powers as a draughtsman.

During his third visit to Italy in 1871, Burne-Jones fell comprehensively under the spell of Michelangelo. To study the Sistine Chapel frescoes he ‘bought the best opera glasses he could find, folded his railway rug thickly, and lying down on his back, read the ceiling from beginning to end, peering into every corner and revelling in its execution.’[2] Galvanised once home he began working on a range of new designs including The Troy Triptych, inspired by the form of Italian Renaissance altarpieces. The predella was divided by four figures, Fortune appearing at the far left. According to Philip Burne-Jones, Fortune was the artist’s favourite design. He produced at least six painted versions, of which the Musée d’Orsay is the most forceful and compelling. The present drawing represents the head of Fortune, it was presumably made early in the gestation of the project, as the model is shown with hair uncovered.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
The Wheel of Fortune
Oil on canvas
78 ¾ x 39 inches; 2000 x 1000 mm
Purchased 1980
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Gérard Blot
Musée d'Orsay, Paris


  1. W. Graham Robertson, Time Was, London, 1831, p.84. 
  2. Georgina Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, London, 1904, vol.II, p.26.