Lot 47
  • 47

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.

150,000 - 200,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.
  • Fortune's Favourite
  • signed L. Alma-Tadema and inscribed Op. CCCXXIX (lower left)
  • oil on panel
  • 21 1/8 by 14 1/2 in.
  • 53.7 by 36.8 cm


Robert Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Berlin (acquired directly from the artist, 1895, and until at least 1913)
Sale: Rudolph Lepke's Kunst-Auctionhaus, Berlin, September 19, 1917, lot 49, illustrated (incorrectly catalogued as on canvas)
William D. Hoxie, Brooklyn, New York and Westerly, Rhode Island
Thence by descent


Berlin, Königlichen Akademie der Künste, Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, 1896, no. 29 (as Jewelen, lent by Robert Mendelssohn-Bartholdy)
Berlin, Königlichen Akademie der Künste, Große Berliner Kunst-Ausstellung, 1899 (according to label on the reverse)
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition of works by the late Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema R.A., O.M., Winter Memorial Exhibition, 1913, no. 191 (lent by Robert Mendelssohn-Bartholdy)


Alma Tadema Letter to Georg Ebers, January 1, 1891
"Some Examples of Recent Art,"The Cosmopolitan, vol. 20, no. 6, April 1886, p. 681, illustrated
James Baldwin, School Readings by Grades, Seventh Year, New York, 1897, p. 12, illustrated
Fedor Il'ich Bulgakov, Alma-Tadema, Petrograd, 1897, illustrated p. 6
Frederick Dolman, "Illustrated Interviews: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema," The Strand Magazine, December 1899, vol. XVIII, p. 610, illustrated
Helen Zimmern, Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, R.A., London, 1902, p. 72
Percy Cross Standing, "Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A., and his Art," The Windsor Magazine, 1904vol. 20, illustrated p. 252
Percy Cross Standing, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: O. M., R. A, London, 1905, p. 99
The New York Times, September 19, 1909, illustrated front page of picture section
Rudolf Dircks, "The Later works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema O.M., R.A., R.W.S.," Art Journal, supplementary monograph, December 1910, p. 32
William Starkweather, "Alma-Tadema, artist and archaeologist,"Mentor, 1924, vol. XII, p. 41, illustrated
Burton B. Frederickson, Alma-Tadema's 'Spring', Malibu, 1976, p. 6, illustrated
Vern Grosvenor Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, p. 251-2, no. 367, illustrated p. 454
Rosemary J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, pp. 151, 158


This painting has recently been restored. It is on a stable panel which shows a very slight bow in the lower left. The paint layer is stable and exhibits some fine wrinkling in the more heavily painted areas, particularly the white pigments in the lower half of the composition. Under UV, finely applied inpainting fluoresces in a series of vertical striations, mostly isolated to the sky and water in the upper half of the composition. There are also small dashes of inpainting in the center figure's face, and in the neck of the figure at right.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Throughout the 1890s, Alma-Tadema’s ambitious reconstructions of Rome frequently depicted its wealthy citizens at leisure.  Many of these works, like Fortune’s Favourite, were painted on an intimate scale, primarily featuring groups of women perched on balconies or exedras overlooking the Bay of Naples. The area was described in ancient sources as a popular resort during the early Empire, where the elite escaped from Rome to their villa maritime (luxury villas) nestled among the region’s cliffs.  However, the present work and similar compositions of the period, like Coign of Vantage (1895, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), were not directly informed by the artist’s travel to Italy, but to the large Bavarian lake, Steinberger See, where his friend Georg Ebers, the German Egyptologist, had a villa (Edwin Becker, Edward Morris, Elizabeth Prettjohn, and Julian Treuherz, eds., Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1997, p. 255-6; Swanson, pp. 252, 253).

The scene indulges Alma-Tadema's long-held fascination with travel and archaeological findings, and a zeal for recreating the objects he saw first-hand in museums or studied from his own expansive reference collection. In contrast to his earlier Roman subjects, featuring Flavian costumes of heavy, saturated color and structured hairstyles, the women of Fortune’s Favourite loosely bind their tresses or allow them to cascade over gauzy, pale, free-flowing silk robes, the glint of gold bracelets and rings suggesting their status. Posing languorously, they examine treasures plucked from a jewelry box (Barrow, p. 147).  At the left of the trio sits a marble krater (used here as a garden ornament, but for the Romans a vessel for the mixing of wine and water) based on an example held by the Musei Capitolini, depicting the chaotic merriment associated with Dionysus, the god of wine.  Alma-Tadema shows the krater’s decoration of a dancing maenad glancing behind at a satyr, suggesting unbridled romantic pursuit.  At the upper right sits a sculpture of Uffizi wrestlers, their male form alluding to the unseen suitor who has bestowed such gifts to the auburn-haired beauty. The artist would revisit this theme in works like Love’s Jewelled Fetter (1895, private collection), in which an Egyptian mummy portrait of a young man represents the male presence otherwise absent from the scene (Barrow, p. 158). The artist’s willingness to draw on symbols from Antiquity reflected his belief that “there is not such a great difference between the ancients and the modern as we are apt to suppose... the old Romans were human flesh and blood like ourselves, moved by such passions and emotions (Frederick Dolman, “Illustrated interviews, LXVII: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema,”  Strand Magazine, December 1899, p. 607, as quoted in Becker et. al, p. 11).

It is not surprising that the present work was published as an engraving in the New York Times in 1909, the 100th anniversary of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s birth. The poet’s work was a frequent source of inspiration for Alma-Tadema, and Fortune’s Favourite's original frame (now lost) was inscribed with an apt, evocative stanza taken in part from  The Princess (1847):


                        Gems and gemlike eyes and gold and golden heads

                        The girls all three blond, red, flax and auburn.


The lines were not chosen as a literal illustration of his scene, but an association between the rich and lyrical beauty of the poetry and the alluring and enduring spirit of the three maidens.

Alma-Tadema kept Fortune’s Favourite in his studio for four years, working on it alongside Spring, now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, where it is among the museum’s most popular works of art.  While Spring was exhibited in 1895 at the Royal Academy, Fortune’s Favourites was not ready for display, both works only exhibited together for the first time in Berlin when lent by Robert von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  A relative of the composer and a wealthy banker, von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy lived in Berlin’s Grunewald section and his collection boasted art spanning from the Old Masters to the Impressionists (Frederickson, p. 5-6).  As the artist’s prices rose through the turn of the century, von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sold Spring in 1901 while keeping Fortune’s Favourite and eventually lending it to Alma-Tadema’s memorial exhibition in 1913.  The painting’s next recorded owner was Brooklyn’s William D. Hoxie, who bought it at auction in 1917 for a substantial price as a wedding gift for his daughter Isabelle. Kept in the family ever since, Fortune’s Favourite has been known only by an engraving, and its exhibition today is its first in over a century.