La Fortune

This ivory figurine represents Fortune, who personified luck or chance in Roman mythology. She is holding a silver horn of plenty, out of which gold coins are falling. She is standing on the wheel of fortune which is surrounded by putti.

Charles Samuel (1862–1938) was commissioned to create a work for the 1894 World Fair in Antwerp by Edmond van Eetvelde, Secretary General of the Independent State of the Congo.

Van Eetvelde wished to promote the Congo to the people of Belgium and suggested to Belgian artists that they create works made from ivory, a material that Van Eetvelde made freely available to them. Some twenty such works were created and all exhibited in a single showcase in the Colonial Section of the Antwerp World Fair.

The Brussels silversmith and jeweller Louis Wolfers exhibited a number of statuettes at a preview, including La Fortune. It is likely that Charles Samuel had commissioned Wolfers to make the sculpture.

La Fortune was sculpted in a single piece from an elephant’s tusk. This approach, considered to be the ideal, was characteristic of Samuel’s art and indeed marked the development of sculpture in ivory between 1894 and 1897. Other artists took inspiration from this, as seen in the statuettes made for the 1897 Colonial Exhibition in Tervuren.

The representation of female figures on the Greek terracotta sculptures of Tanagra was one of Samuel’s sources of inspiration. The Greek word τύχη (providence), written in silver on the marble plinth, further underlines the reference to Ancient Greece.

This work is part of the history of sculpture in ivory in Belgium, an important period in Belgian sculpture at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is thanks to the Léon Courtin-Marcelle Bouché Fund that La Fortune could be purchased. The work has been entrusted to the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels.

Material / technique: 
Ivory, silver or silver-plated bronze
51 cm (height)
Type of acquisition: 
Acquired by the Léon Courtin-Marcelle Bouché Fund
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels