Size: 45 inches x 31.75 inches; 81 x 113 cm, with gilt frame
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1896; Liverpool, 1896
Original caption: It is stated in the conclusion of Duke Christian’s speech to his brother, ‘To preserve the splendour of our house only one of us should marry, so that one will be the head of the new line … ‘ They drew lots: seven balls, one of which was gilt, the others silvered, were thrown into the helmet … Fate decided in favour of George the youngest but one, etc.
Crowe visited Celle in the late summer of 1895, and undoubtedly sketched some of the details of the room there. The picture was exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in the autumn of 1896.
The painting was auctioned by Christie’s on 25 July 1974. It was held privately for many years until the death of its owner in 2014. In autumn 2016 it was owned by art dealer Brian Saunders, of Saunders Fine Art (http://www.saundersart.co.uk), and displayed at the LAPADA and Olympia art shows. It is still framed in its original frame. It was offered for sale at auction on 8 March 2018 by Cuttlestones Auctioneers of Penkridge, Staffordshire (http://www.cuttlestones.co.uk/index.htm), with a reserve price of £2,400.
Athenaeum, 2 May 1875:
Drawing lots for a wife and a crown is the occupation of the gentlemen gathered in Mr. Crowe’s leading picture about a table in the hall of the palace of Celle or Zell. This is an historic scene, and the decorations, furniture, and lighting are faithfully copied from nature. As was the custom in Germany during the sixteenth century, and even at a much earlier date, a curious and elaborate candelabrum of gilt brass – such as is to be seen depicted in the pictures of Memlinc and Van Eyck – hangs from the roof, immediately over a long table, at which the seven sons of Duke William of Hanover, ob. 1592, have assembled (the ducal races of Germany, being prolific, often had recourse to an expedient of the kind) to draw lots as to which of them shall marry and carry on the succession, the others being content with morganatic alliances. The princes are, on account of their father’s death, clad in black: the senior, at the head of the table, is already middle-aged, while the youthful Duke George is sixteen, and another is still younger. The lots being placed in their father’s helmet, the fortunate one has fallen to the sixth son George, who is here in the act of receiving the rather boisterous congratulations of more than one of his brothers. The skill and care of the painter in dealing with the various attitudes and expressions are much to be admired. In fact, the incident – a difficult one for a designer – is extremely well expressed and made easy to understand. On our right is an elaborate monument of the deceased duke, comprising the statue of a knight in armour kneeling before the Virgin and Child, which has been brought to the hall for inspection before it is set up in the great church … The incident is dealt with in Thackeray’s lectures on the four Georges.
Art Journal, June 1896, p. 172:
In the class of historical genre we find one or two canvases that deserve attention. Mr. Eyre Crowe’s ‘Drawing Lots for the Guelph Succession at Celle, A.D. 1592’ has a quietly dramatic manner, which is effective in telling its story, and which makes a subject only moderately paintable sufficiently convincing for pictorial purposes.