• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7728

    Victorian and British Impressionist Pictures including Drawings and Watercolours

    4 June 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 24

    Walter Crane, R.W.S. (1845-1915)

    The Roll of Fate

    Would that some winged angel ere too late
    Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
    And make the stern Recorder otherwise
    Enregister, or quite obliterate!'

    Ah love! Could you and I with him conspire
    To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
    Would we not shatter it to bits - and then
    Remould it nearer to the heart's desire!- Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Walter Crane, R.W.S. (1845-1915)
    The Roll of Fate

    Would that some winged angel ere too late
    Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
    And make the stern Recorder otherwise
    Enregister, or quite obliterate!'

    Ah love! Could you and I with him conspire
    To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
    Would we not shatter it to bits - and then
    Remould it nearer to the heart's desire!- Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

    signed with device and dated 1882 (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    28 x 26 in. (71.1 x 66 cm.)


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882 when the artist was thirty-six, the picture shows an angel attempting to alter the course of events by preventing Time from unrolling the scroll on which the destiny of mankind is recorded. It illustrates two verses from Edward FitzGerald's translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which were printed in the Grosvenor catalogue. Like so many members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Crane was a great admirer of this poem, which he had first encountered when visiting Burne-Jones in the 1870s; he had seen a manuscript version, now in the British Library, which had been written by William Morris for Georgiana Burne-Jones and illuminated with figures designed by Burne-Jones and executed by Fairfax Murray. About the same time that he painted The Roll of Fate he used the poem as an iconographical source for a scheme of lacquered gesso reliefs in the dining-room at 1 Holland Park, his contribution to the great Aesthetic interior created by Alexander Ionides, the Greek Consul-General in London, at this north Kensington mansion.

    The picture's subject was inspired by two bereavements that Crane suffered early in 1881, the death of his fourth infant child, a son, in January, followed by that of his sister Lucy in May. In his autobiography, Crane describes how he and his wife were so distressed by the death of their child that they left London, settling during the spring of 1882 at Wickhurst, an old manor house 'on the side of a hill overlooking Seveanoaks Weald'. It was there that he painted The Roll of Fate.

    F. G. Stephens, reviewing the Grosvenor exhibition in the Athenaeum, described the picture as 'a quaint but somewhat clumsy Renaissance allegory of Time enthroned within his temple'. He liked the angel, 'a noble and manly figure, whose limbs are well drawn and modelled', but felt that Time was 'a poor conception' while the 'design in general' was 'an anachronism'.

    The painting was one of the first of the later works in which Crane gave free rein to his fondness for allegory. He returned to this area of subject matter in The Bridge of Life, exhibited at the Grosvenor in 1884 and sold at Christie's, London on 30 March 1990 (lot 512); and he continued to explore it almost until the end of his life. The Roll of Fate was bought by Somerset Beaumont, a wealthy landowner and sometime member of parliament for Wakefield who was a loyal patron of Crane from the early 1870s. He was the brother-in-law of the Rev. Stopford Brooke, the well-known preacher of Broad Church views who also owned many examples of Crane's work.

    In general, however, these allegorical pictures were less appreciated in England than they were in Germany. As Crane himself observed, 'possibly, apart from any artistic quality, the symbolic and figurative character of their subjects (was) more in keeping with the Teutonic mind'. The most consistent collector of these paintings was Ernst Seeger of Berlin, who owned, among others, The Bridge of Life and The Chariots of the Hours, a Wagnerian composition that won a gold medal at the Glass Palace Exhibition at Munich in 1895. This is now lost, but many of Crane's paintings that found homes in Germany are now in German public collections. They include Neptune's Horses (1893; Munich), The Mower (1901; Karlsruhe), and A Masque of the Four Seasons (1905-9; Darmstadt).

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Provenance

    Bought from the artist by Somerset Beaumont, and still in his possession in 1907.
    with Galleria del Lavante, Milan, 1969.


    Literature

    Henry Blackburn (ed.), Grosvenor Notes 1882, London, 1882, p.16, illustrated.
    Athenaeum, no. 2845, 6 May 1882, p.576.
    'The Work of Walter Crane', with notes by the artist, Easter Art Annual (extra number of the Art Journal), London, 1898, p. 25.
    Gustave Soulier, 'Walter Crane', Art et Décoration, Paris, December 1898, p.169, illustrated.
    P.G. Konody, The Art of Walter Crane, London, 1902, pp. 96, illustrated opposite 134.
    Otto von Schleinitz, Walter Crane (Kunstler-Monographien, no. LXII), Beilefeld and Leipzig, 1902, pp. 57-8.
    Walter Crane, An Artist's Reminiscences, London, 1907, pp. 230-1, illustrated.
    Isobel Spencer, Walter Crane, New York, 1975, pp.123, 126 (illustrated), 127.


    Exhibited

    London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1882, no. 36.
    Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, The Sacred and Profane in Symbolist Art, 1969, no. 124.