Lot 38
  • 38

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

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.
  • Love's Jewelled Fetter (The Betrothal Ring)
  • signed L Alma Tadema and inscribed Op. CCCXXVIII- (upper left) 
  • oil on panel 
  • 25 by 17 1/2 in.
  • 63.5 by 44.5 cm


George McCulloch, Esq. (commissioned directly from the artist, 1895)  
Mrs. Coutts Michie (by descent from the above, her father, and sold, Christie's, London, May 28, 1913, lot 112)
Wallis & Sons, London
H.A. Oliver, Esq. (acquired from the above, May 1914)
Sale: Sotheby's, London, June 19, 1990, lot 56, illustrated 
Private Collection, New York
Thence by descent


London, New Gallery, 1895, no. 73
London, Art Gallery of the Corporation of London, Guildhall, Loan Collection of Pictures by Painters of the British school who have flourished during Her Majesty’s Reign, April 7-July 14, 1897, no. 117 (lent by George McCulloch, Esq.)
Glasgow, International Exhibition, 1901, no. 523 (lent by George McCulloch, Esq.)
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Modern Works in Painting and Sculpture forming the Collection of the Late George McCulloch, Esq., Winter Exhibition, Fortieth Year, January 4-March 13, 1909, no. 76
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by the Late Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A., O.M.: Winter Exhibition, Forty-Fourth Year, January 6-March 15, 1913, no. 166 (lent by Mrs. Coutts Michie)


Athenaeum, London, March 16, 1895, p. 351 
Magazine of Art, London, 1895, p. 285-7
Henry Blackburn, New Gallery, 1895, pp. 10, 41, illustrated p. 41
Percy Cross Standing, Sir Lawrence Alma-TademaO.M., R.A., London, 1905, p. 99
D. Croal Thomson, "The Late Mr. George McCulloch," Art Journal, 1908, p. 44
Rudolf Dircks, "The later works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., R.W.S," Art Journal, Christmas Edition, London, 1910, p. 16, illustrated p. 32 
Vern G. Swanson, Alma-Tadema: The painter of the Victorian Vision of the Ancient world, London, 1977, p. 140 
Vern G. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, p. 251, no. 366, illustrated p. 454 
Rosemary J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, p. 158, illustrated pl. 158


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This technically complex work is in beautiful condition. It is painted on a good wooden panel, which lies flat. The paint layer is in excellent condition and seems to be clean. Under ultraviolet light, one can see that the left side is retouched in a vertical band of about half an inch wide. There is also a small amount of retouching across the center of the top edge addressing some frame abrasion, but the visible border here is original. These pictures were often painted to be presented in tabernacle frames, which would account for the slightly uneven top edge and the unpainted restored edge on the left. Within the picture proper, there are a few spots of retouching in the upper right in the sky and in the hills beyond the settlement. There is a spot of retouching in the marble colonnade above the redheaded figure, and possibly a spot of retouching in the water on the right side. There is a very thin line of retouching in the marble floor in the lower left, and a couple of other spots of retouching beneath the bench on the left side. The original paint reads strongly under ultraviolet light in many areas, but this does not correspond to retouching. The work should be hung as is.
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

Love’s Jewelled Fetter is distinguished by the gem-hued palette of a riotous azalea bush dominating the foreground and a brilliant azure sea extending towards the horizon. Two beautiful patrician women, arranged on a bronze settee upon a marble terrace under floral garlands, overlook a mountainous coast studded with Roman villas. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema surely sought to convey a calm Bay of Naples, the area 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) and Fortunes Favorites (sold in these rooms, November 22, 2016, lot 47), were not directly informed by the artist’s travel to Italy, but by 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, p. 252, 253). The present work’s subject is inspired by the novella, The Amazon (1880, English translation 1884) by Alma-Tadema’s friend, the historian Carel Vosmaer, in which the main character is a Dutch artist named Siwart Aisma, based on Alma-Tadema himself. When Vosmaer accompanied Alma-Tadema on one of his many trips to Italy he remarked on the painter’s “astonishing accuracy, tirelessness and fire: he espied the door grooves, the bolt holes, everything, everything” (as quoted in Robert Verhoogt, Art in Reproduction, Amsterdam, 2007, p. 497). Not surprisingly, the plot follows the Dutch antiquary’s obsessive study of Roman sculpture collections, as well as his romance with the poet, Marciana van Buren (Barrow, p. 91). Alma-Tadema’s scene illustrates a moment where Marciana, shown in violet robes, extends her hand to a companion to examine her ring (the fetter), a token of her and Aisma’s love. The statue at the upper right of the composition, Spinario, alludes to Aisma’s interests in classical sculpture while aligning with Alma-Tadema’s own (he owned a photograph of the sculpture and it appears in multiple compositions). The scene seems to occur under the watchful eye of Aisma, who looms from the portrait hanging above them, inscribed Amo Te Ama Me (I love you, so love me too). The scale and format of the portrait suggests that it is based on a “Mummy portrait,” the naturalistic likeness affixed to Egyptian mummies during the Coptic period, dating from the Roman occupation of Egypt. Ebers was particularly interested in “mummy portraits,” and Alma-Tadema’s inclusion here casts a link across time and space, and further evidence of the artist’s voracious curiosity for the Ancient world.

A tour-de-force of nineteenth century painting and among Alma-Tadema’s most striking compositions, Love’s Jewelled Fetter was painted during an extraordinary period for the artist and the same year that he presented Spring (1894, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) at the Royal Academy. Unsurprisingly, it drew the attention of the progressive contemporary art collector, George McCulloch. Croal Thomson’s tribute to him, published in The Art Journal, read “The death of Mr. George McCulloch… removed the greatest patron of the artist to-day. From the first time he purchased a picture, this keen lover of the arts of painting and sculpture was imbued with the feeling that, for him, the works of the artists of his own time were most suited to his taste, and no persuasion ever carried him past that conviction.” He goes on to exhaustively list the artists included in the extraordinary collection, specifying that “Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s careful painting is adequately represented by The Sculptor’s Gallery [1874, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire] and Love’s Jewelled Fetter, the latter a brilliant piece of coloring” (The Art Journal, p. 43-4). Many works in McCulloch’s collection have become some of the most beloved in public institutions around the world, and when his sale took place in 1913, newspapers trumpeted record breaking prices for such celebrated British masterpieces as John William Waterhouse’s Saint Cecilia (1895, Private Collection), Frederic Lord Leighton’s Daphnephoria (1874-76, Lady Lever Art Gallery), Edward Burne Jones’ Love Among the Ruins (1894, Wightwick Manor, West Midlands), George Clausen’s Ploughing (Aberdeen Art Gallery) as well as continental works such as Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Pas Mèche (1882, National Gallery of Scotland) and Pauvre Fauvrette (1881, Glasgow Museums).