Posts Tagged ‘Franz Xaver Winterhalter


Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the ‘Other’ Demidov Portrait

842a 68 Demidova Meshcherskaia WinterhalterFriday, 29 June 2012

Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the ‘Other’ Demidov Portrait

Further patronage by the Demidov family is suggested by a portrait in the Museum of Fine Arts, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The painting is known as a Portrait of a Lady, but it has also been suggested that this is a portrait of another woman from the Demidov family (illustrated on the left). In this entry, I would like to firmly establish the identity of this sitter and the date of the painting.

The research into the Demidov family history suggests that the woman in the portrait is no other than Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaia [Княжна Мария Элимовна Мещерская] (1844-1868), who married in June 1867 Pavel Pavlovich Demidov, 2nd Prince di San Donato (1839-1885), son of the sitter discussed in the previous post (Avrova Karlovna Demidova-Karamzina, née Stjernvall, 1808-1902). Her identity is confirmed by contemporary photographs of Princess Maria just before her marriage, which show the same distinctive, almost Oriental beauty, elongated oval of the face, large soulful eyes, and the prominent nose (see the three images below).

Meshcherskaia-Demidova 04

Meshcherskaia-Demidova 03

Meshcherskaia-Demidova 01

Princess Maria Meshcherskaia is predominantly known today as the first love of Alexander III, Emperor of Russia when a Grand Duke and only third in line to the throne. However, upon the death of his older brother, Alexander stood to inherit the Russian Imperial Crown, and under the pressure from his parents, he gave up Princess Maria Meshcherskaia to marry a girl from his own caste, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, the future Empress Maria Feodrovna. Princess Meshcherskaia was ordered to leave St Petersburg, and while in Paris she met – and married shortly afterwards – Prince Paul Demidov, one of the most eligible bachelors and wealthiest Russian aristocrats.

But her newly found happiness in married life was not to last. Princess Maria died in August 1868 two days after giving birth to her only child, Elim Pavlovich Demidov, future 3rd Prince di San Donato (1868-1943).

842 68 Demidova WinterhalterWinterhalter’s portrait of the ill-fated Princess was most likely painted within a space of fourteen months, between June 1867 and August 1868. The existence of Winterhalter’s portrait of Princess Marie’s mother-in-law, Avrova Karlovna Demidova-Karamzina, which also dates from around c. 1868 (oil on canvas, 60.0 x 50.0 cm, Private Collection, FXW cat no 842, illustrated left), suggests a possibility that both portraits were commissioned from Winterhalter simultaneously, and there are numerous precedents in Winterhalter’s practice to paint various members of the same family within a short period of time, more often than not within a space of a few months. The date of the portrait can be further confirmed by its comparison with the recently-surfaced portrait of Sophie, Duchesse de Morny (née Princess Troubetzkaia; 1838-1896), also from c. 1868 (oil on canvas, present location unknown, no 846, illustrated lower right). Both portraits bear striking compositional similarities and show both sitters within an oval portrait format, standing at three-quarter-length, enveloped in a fur-edged wrap.

663 59 Troubetzkaia Winterhalter

846 68 Morny WinterhalterTherefore, both the date and the identity of the sitter can now be firmly established, as the portrait  of Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaia, Princess Demidova di San Donato, of c. 1868 (FXW cat no 842a).

It is an interesting twist of fate, that the widower, Prince Paul Demidov, married secondly, three years later, in June 1871, Princess Elena Petrovna Troubetzkaia [Княжна Елена Петровна Трубецкая] (1853-1917), whose mother, Princess Elizaveta Esperovna Troubetzkaia (née Princess Beloselsaia-Belozerskaia; 1834-1907), was captured by Winterhalter in the famous, effervescent 1859 portrait (oil on canvas, 147.0 x 108.0 cm, Private Collection, FXW cat no 663, illustrated lower far right).

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.


Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the Demidov Portrait

842 68 Demidova WinterhalterThursday, 28 June 2012

Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the Demidov Portrait

My research on Franz Xaver Winterhalter continues, and with this entry, I propose that one of his works, which was traditionally identified as a portrait of Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, Princess Demidova di San-Donato (1820-1904), is in fact a portrait of Avrora Karlovna Demidova-Karamzina, née Stjernvall [Аврора Карловна Демидова-Карамзина, ур. Шернваль] (1808-1902).


The first inference that the Demidov family offered patronage to Franz Xaver Winterhalter is to be found in Franz Wild’s posthumous list of Winterhalter’s works, which includes a reference to a portrait of a woman from the Demidov family: Mme Demidoff 1868 (Wild 1894, 45). As with all references on Wild’s list, no further information is given.


The next indication of this patronage was a portrait of a lady at Sotheby’s Russian Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours and Sculpture auction in London, 5 March 1981, lot 40 (oil on canvas, oval, 60 x 50cm, sold USD $7,840). The portrait was unsigned and unprovenanced, yet it was described as a Portrait of Mathilde Bonaparte, daughter of Jerome Bonaparte, wife of Prince Anatole Demidoff [sic]. Sotheby’s supported this identification with a short précis of Princesse Mathilde’s biography.

BONAPARTE MATHILDE 03However, as my Winterhalter research was progressing, I began to question the identity of the sitter. Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte separated from Anatoly Demidov, Prince di San Donato (1813-70) in 1846; she was thence known by her maiden name and was commonly referred to by all her contemporaries as Princesse Mathilde. While Wild’s list is rife with spelling errors, the titles for most part are correct. It would have been unthinkable, therefore, that either Winterhalter as late as 1868 or his nephew as late as 1894 would have referred to the Princesse in their books as a mere Mme Demidoff.Unfortunately, I only have a black-and-white image of this portrait, so I would be most grateful if anyone in the ethersphere, who might possess a colour version of it, could forward it to me – this of course would be most dutifully and gratefully acknowledged! Nevertheless, even on the basis of the extant image, the portrait is readily attributable as an autograph Winterhalter from his later period.This identification was accepted by the editors of Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the Courts of Europe 1830-70, who in their monumental exhibition catalogue linked the entry on Wild’s list with the portrait at Sotheby’s: “370. Mme Demidoff, 1868. Presumably Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, Comtesse Demidoff. Head and shoulders, oval, 60 x 50, Private Collection.” (Winterhalter 1987-88, 235).

Demidova_s_synom_PavlomFurthermore, no chroniclers or biographers of Princesse Mathilde mention her sitting to Winterhalter, which corresponds with the alleged animosity between the Princesse and Eugénie, Empress of the French (1826-1920), who was among Winterhalter’s premier patrons; neither is the portrait reproduced in any publications, past or present, on the Princesse. Last but not least, even with Winterhalter’s well-known propensity for the admissible degree of flattery and idealisation, the lady in the portrait looks to be in her fifties or early sixties. Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte was in her late forties, and while every artist who painted her subjugated the Princesse’s visage to his own aesthetic ideal, the subtle mimetic differences are also apparent, especially in the shorter oval of the face and a more pronounced  jaw line.

DEMIDOVAAurora_StjernvallThese observations initiated a research into other Demidov women who were alive and in their fifties or sixties in the late 1860s. One of them stood out most prominently: Eva Aurora Charlotta Stjernvall (1808-1902), more commonly known under her Russian name as Avrora Karlovna Stjernvall [Аврора Карловна Шернваль], who married Pavel Nikolaevich Demidov [Демидов] (1798-1840), and upon becoming a widow, she married secondly Andrei Nikolaevich Karamzin [Карамзин] (1814-54). After her second widowhood, Avrora Karlovna continued to be commonly referred to by her first husband’s name. Through her first husband, who was Anatoly Demidov’s brother, she was Princesse Mathilde’s sister-in-law; and her son, Paul (1839-1885), inherited his uncle’s illustrious princely title. On the other hand, neither Avrora nor her late husband, Pavel Demidov, had a title of nobility. Therefore, both the portrait and the entry on Wild’s list correspond more accurately as a portrait of Avrora Karlovna as a simple Mme Demidoff; who was also turning  60 at the time the portrait was painted.

DEMIDOVA aurora_karamzin PERIGNONThe similarities between the woman in Winterhalter’s portrait and known portraits of Avrora Karlovna Demidova are striking, including a slightly elongated oval of the face, and a very characteristic hairstyle. Furthermore, Demidova appears in several of her portraits wearing a black lace head-dress, which corresponds with her widowed status (no portrait of Princesse Mathilde features a similar head ornament). Avrora’s portrait by Perignon (illustrated on the left) bears the most striking resemblance to Winterhalter’s portrait, including the details and outlines of the lace headdress and the way in which it descends to the shoulders. Demidova’s biographers report that in 1867 she was infected with smallpox, which disfigured her face. It is quite possible that by commissioning her portrait from Winterhalter at the time of her sixtieth birthday, Avrora Karlovna entrusted the artist to eradicate the ravages of illness and age, and attempted to arrest the time and preserve the modicum of her celebrated beauty.

842 68 Demidova WinterhalterWhile my research continues, and unless evidence surfaces to the contrary, I am altering the title of this work in my catalogue accordingly as a portrait of Avrora Karlovna Demidova-Karamzina (1808-1902), née Aurora Charlotta Stjernvall (see no 842).

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.


Dresden Portrait Re-Identified as a ‘Lost’ portrait of Augusta Großherzogin von Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1822-1916) by F.X. Winterhalter

321 46 Mecklenburg-Strelitz WinterhalterDresden Portrait Re-Identified as Winterhalter’s ‘Lost’ portrait of Augusta Großherzogin von Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1822-1916)

The recent catalogue of Victorian Miniatures in the Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has helped me to shed light on the portrait in the collection of Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, known hitherto only as Damenbildnis [see no 321, Works by Franz Xaver Winterhalter 1846-1850]

The painting can now be fully identified as a portrait of Augusta Großherzogin von Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1822-1916), née Princess of Cambridge, painted at Windsor Castle between 7 and 16 October 1846.


The following research information backs up my suggestion:

  • A miniature enamel copy of this portrait (5.0 x 4.0 cm) by John Simpson (1811-aft 1871), signed, dated, and identified as a copy after Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s portrait of Princess Augusta of Cambridge, Hereditary Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, of 1846, is in the collection of HM Queen Elizabeth II (RCIN 421918).
  • A further copy of this portrait by Henry Melville (fl 1846-86) (oil on canvas, 61 x 50.8 cm, oval), is also in the collection of HM Queen Elizabeth II (RCIN 406676).
  • Both copies were commissioned by Queen Victoria after the original portrait by F.X. Winterhalter, which was given to the sitter’s husband, Friedrich Wilhelm Großherzog von Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1819-1904).

000 Copy - FXW MSThere are numerous references to confirm the dating of the portrait from October 1846:

  • The portrait was commissioned by Queen Victoria from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, who was in England from September 1846 to February 1847 [Oliver Millar, Victorian Pictures, 1: 284]
  • One of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Hon. Eleanor Stanley, wrote in a letter from Windsor Castle, dated 7 October 1846: “I was on the whole day with some Royalty or other, as the Grand Duchess [of Mecklenburg] sat for her picture from eleven till two to Winterhalter, and desired [me] to go and sit with her… After lunch she had another sitting, and I attended again till four o’clock, when she went out driving with the Queen…” [Eleanor Stanley, Letters (London: 1916), 136].
  • The portrait is mentioned in Queen Victoria’s diary in an entry for 16 October 1846, where the portrait is described as ‘quite beautiful & so boldly, as well as finely painted’ [Oliver Millar, Victorian Pictures (London: 1992), 1: 326].
  • It was given as a joint present from Queen Victoria and the Dowager Queen Adelaide to the sitter’s husband, then the Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, on 17 October 1846 [ibid].
  • The portrait is mentioned on the list of portraits by F.X. Winterhalter, published posthumously by the artist’s nephew, Franz Wild, in 1894, where it appears among other 1846 portraits by the artist [Franz Wild, Neckrologe…, 38].

A confirmation has been recently received from the Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, accepting this identification.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 2012


[It all started with a] Portrait of Princess Tatiana Yusupova

F.X. Wintehalter - Portrait of Princess Tatiana Yusupova (1858)Wednesday, 2 March 2011

[It all started with a] Portrait of Princess Tatiana Yusupova…

The previous entry made think how did my “love affair” with Winterhalter began (“love affair” being an apt description, as several exes referred to Winterhalter as “the other man in my life”…).

In the late 1985, I was thumbing through my uncle’s collection of postcards with reproductions of paintings from the Hermitage Collection. From the multitude of images that flicked before my eyes, I was inexplicably drawn to a single picture. The inscription on the reverse laconically stated that this was a portrait of Princess Tatiana Alexandrovna Yusupova, painted in Paris in 1858 by an artist called Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

I was intrigued. I wanted to find out more. I wanted to see the portrait in the flesh. Being only fourteen years of age, I was not at liberty to jump on a train and make a lengthy journey to Leningrad (as St Petersburg was then called) for the purpose of seeing a single portrait. However, an opportunity presented itself in 1986, when a school excursion was organised to Leningrad, with the State Hermitage being a compulsory stop on its itinerary.

F.X. Winterhalter - Portrait of Sophia Naryshkina (1858)After a short introductory tour of this most magnificent collection, that lasted all of about forty five minutes, we were let loose around the museum. Clutching a crumpled piece of paper with the map of the Hermitage, I ran towards the French nineteenth-century section that was located on the third floor in one of the distant parts of the building. I passed the rooms studded with Rembrandts and Titians; I did not give a second glance to the priceless Leonardo da Vinci or the most ravishing Rubens. Through the convoluted system of rooms and staircases, I finally reached my destination. I did not stop to admire the David or Ingres; slid straight past a magnificent portrait of Empress Josephine by Gérard, until I was finally there, standing in front of the portrait of Princess Yusupova by Winterhalter.

The portrait exceeded all my expectations. Floating majestically on a cloud of lace and tulle, Princess Yusupova casts down her regal glance at the viewer from a sizeable canvas measuring approximately 150 by 100 centimetres. Her wavy dark-auburn hair is parted in the middle and arranged in a luxurious heavy chignon. Two massive pearl earrings drop from her ears; a magnificent necklace with gargantuan pearls adorns her smooth polished neck and shoulders. Her arms are weighed down by massive golden bangles and drown in the voluminous crinoline skirt, which is ready to burst forth from the confines of the picture. A heavy dark-crimson velvet curtain billows behind the Princess revealing an imposing marble column with a view to a park beyond.

F.X. Winterhalter - Portrait of Countess Varvara Mousina-Pushkina (c.1857)When I finally shook myself out of a trance-like state and tore myself away from the portrait, I looked around the rest of the room. To my astonishment, apart from the portrait of Princess Yusupova, there were more portraits by Winterhalter [as I would later discover, altogether the State Hermitage has sixteen paintings by the artist]. More grand titles were to be found on the wall labels – empresses, grand duchesses, countesses; more aristocratic names were to be read to stir up my curiosity – the Romanovs, Shouvalovs, Naryshkins, Mousin-Pushkins.

I wanted to find out more about the artist who created these magnificent portraits; and about the fascinating sitters, whom he recorded for posterity, who were staring from canvasses at the viewer through the veil of the ages. Thus began my journey into the life and art of Franz Xaver Winterhalter, which has continued (on and off) to the present day.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


A Winterhalter Thesis

Melbourne University LogoTuesday, 1 March 2011

A Winterhalter Thesis

Dear Friends,

In case some of you have been wondering about my recent silence, I do owe a small explanation…

Some weeks ago, an email arrived in my Inbox from the University of Melbourne:

“Dear Eugene,

Congratulations, your application for a place in the Ph.D.- Arts at the University of Melbourne has been successful.  You have been made an unconditional offer.  A signed letter of offer has been sent to the mailing address on your application.”

I stared at the email in disbelief and re-read it several times over for the news to sink in. I wanted to ensure that I understood every word, every sentence; and that there was no mistaking that, indeed, my PhD application to the University of Melbourne to work on a new thesis on Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873), a nineteenth-century, German-born, internationally renowned portrait specialist, has been accepted.

This not only meant that I will be able to dedicate the next three years (if not more) of my life to studying professionally one of my favourite subjects, portraiture, and the life and art of one of my favourite practitioners of the genre, Winterhalter, I will also have an opportunity of doing so at one of the most renowned Australian universities under the care and guidance of two most respected academicians, Associate Professor Alison Inglis, and Herald Chair of Fine Arts Professor Jaynie Anderson.

However, this was not the end of it…

Roughly within a few hours another email arrived, also from the University of Melbourne:

“Dear Eugene,

Congratulations! On behalf of the University of Melbourne, I write to advise that you have been offered the following scholarship: Australian Postgraduate Award (APA)… Your scholarship offer letter is attached to this email as a PDF.”

This email stunned me completely.

If the previous email was re-read by me at least 6 times, this one was re-read at least a dozen times.

I felt justifiably and reasonably certain (as did a number of my close friends and colleagues) that, based on my excellent results for the Masters Thesis, I had a good shot at a place in the PhD program at the University of Melbourne.

I cannot possibly express the surprise and the elation that I was also granted a three year scholarship to pursue my studies.

I paced up and down my lounge room and made several circles around my dining table for the news to sink in. I was afraid to go back to my computer lest I misread the news. But, no, there was no mistaking it. The scholarship was on offer. I think I evinced the loudest yelp of joy; took a deep breath; poured myself a big glass of wine; and sunk deep into the couch to continue processing and digesting the news.

One of my most cherished wishes has been granted. Many, many years of hard work and study have been rewarded, and I will be able to pursue my Winterhalter studies at the University of Melbourne, with the University’s support to do so!

PS: I have to admit to a certain streak of superstition within me, so I kept the whole affair under wraps until such time that all paperwork was completed; until I had my initial meetings with Alison Inglis and Jaynie Anderson; and until the first scholarship payment landed in my account. It is only after that, that I felt “safe” sharing this wonderful news with the world…

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Paintings by Winterhalter @ Chateau de Compiegne, FrancePaintings by Winterhalter @ Chateau de Versailles, France


NGV Old Master Portraits: Sir John Everett Millais

NGV - Millais - Cecil WebbFriday, 7 January 2011

NGV Old Master Portraits: Sir John Everett Millais

Created in the twilight years of his career, late portraits of Sir John Everett Millais speak of painterly wisdom and artistic maturity. The present portrait of Cecil Prout Webb, of 1887, painted within the last decade of the artist’s life, is an exercise in technical skill and stylistic perfection. The boy is portrayed full-length out of doors, seated on a moss-covered garden seat, dressed in a smart winter coat edged with fur, and sporting a pair of new shiny boots and leather gloves. Children occupy a significant place in the artist’s oeuvre, and he often used his own children and those of his neighbours and friends as prototypes for some of the most successful genre pictures, like My First Sermon (1863), Cherry Ripe (1879) and Soap Bubbles (1886).

Franz Xaver Winterhalter - Leopold Duc de Brabant

Traditional iconography of the portrait would have been clearly read by a 19th-century spectator. Young Master Webb is no ordinary boy, but an heir to what Nancy Mitford termed in her novels “all this”. His carefully tailored coat with its rich trimmings sits comfortably on the boy, and his leather shoes are of the proper black colour as becoming of a young gentleman. Furthermore, the woodland setting and a moss-covered stone seat speak of establishment, stability, and continuity, while the overgrown garden scape evokes a traditional country manor.

However, there is a sad twist to this story. Recent research, based on the date of the portrait and the dates of the sitter’s life, indicates that this is a posthumous portrait of the boy. As such, it would have been commissioned by the boy’s parents from Millais (a highly successful as well as fashionable portrait painter of the era, with charges of up to £2,000 for a full length likeness) on the basis of photographs.

NGV - Millais - Cecil Webb Detail

True to the prevalent Victorian painterly tradition where ‘every picture tells a story’, Millais incorporated this sad narrative into the portrait. The rays that light the boy’s face belong to a sun of spring, traditionally identified in painting with youth, while a shiver of winter that permeates the twilight atmosphere allegorises old age.  Similarly, while traditionally children were represented dressed in light summer’s day clothes, the sombre winter attire of the young Master Webb may also point to his untimely passing.

Millais’s portraits of children are usually filled with energy and effervescence, and more often than not are highly original compositions based on sketches and drawings from life. However, faced with a challenge of creating an original work of art based on a photographic still, Millais may have sought inspiration from such earlier portrait painters like Franz Xaver Winterhalter, whose portrait of the young Duc de Brabant of 1844 it strongly resembles. It is highly probable that Millais found a successful resolution to this challenge by basing the present portrait on an existing iconographic template.

Landscape and portraiture – two of the most popular genres in English painting – are brought together successfully in this canvas by Millais, an accomplished master of both. The painting thus leaves the confines of portraiture and evolves into Millais’ aesthetic reflection on youth and the transcendent essence of life.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Tiepolo Restitution Claims?

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Banquet of Cleopatra - National Gallery of VictoriaSunday, 12 December 2010

Tiepolo Restitution Claims?

Whenever I see The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo at the National Gallery of Victoria, I am involuntarily reminded that it once belonged to the Russian tsars. It was purchased in 1756 by Empress Catherine the Great and remained by descent in the collection of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs, until the Revolution of 1917. After the revolution, all their properties and collections were confiscated and nationalised; parts of it sold off to support the fledging Soviet economy. Cleopatra was among the paintings earmarked for sale, and in 1932 it was secured for the National Gallery of Victoria.

Restitution claims from the descendants of the Russian Imperial Family, aristocracy, and merchant, banking, and industrial elites, whose properties (including art collections) were confiscated and nationalised after the 1917 Soviet Revolution, are a very recent phenomena, and to the best of my knowledge these claims have not been successful yet.

Paul Cezanne - Mme Cezanne 1891 - The MetropolitanThe Australian on Friday reprinted an article from The Wall Street Journal, where a descendant of the rich industrial Morozov family, whose famous collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art were also confiscated and nationalised by the Soviet Authorities after the Revolution. He claims for the restitution to Morozov’s heirs of a painting by Paul Cézanne at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (C. Herring and E. Orden, “Painting’s Troubled Past Revisited”, The Australian, 10 December 2010, Arts 15). The litigation continues.

Let me give you a brief history of expropriation and nationalisation of private property in Europe of the last century. In 1917, Communists swept to power in Russia after the October Revolution. In 1918, the Soviet Government nationalised all private property, which extended to works of art. Most of their former owners, which included the Russian Imperial Family, the aristocracy, and the merchant, banking, and industrial elites were either forced to flee the country or marched to the execution block.

Most artworks were sent to a central collecting point, and the most significant among them were placed with major museums in Moscow and St Petersburg. The rest were gradually distributed among regional museums and art centres throughout the Soviet Union, including its furthest outposts beyond the Ural Mountains. (Of course, inevitably, there was a bit of looting and destruction along the way, especially to the works of art in the former elite’s country estates.)

F.X. Winterhalter - Countess Maria Lamsdorff - Metropolitan (in the Lamsdorff Collection, St Petersburg, prior to 1918)In the 1920s and 1930s, the cash-strapped Soviet Government began to sell off some of its nationalised collections. Their former owners, a number of whom by now were penniless exiles, could do little but watch as their heirlooms, which were in family collections for hundreds of years, were sold off the auction block in European capitals and subsequently popped up in major museums around the world (among them a number of portraits by F.X.  Winterhalter).

In the 1930s, the Third Reich began its persecution of the Jewish population, whose collections were likewise expropriated; their former owners either escaped miraculously by the skin of their teeth, or sent to their death in concentration camps.

In the early 1940s, the Soviet army swept through Eastern Europe, setting up from 1945 onwards Communist regimes in the liberated countries along the Soviet borders. Once again, their former royal, aristocratic, and upper class families fled; their property was nationalised; their art collections were distributed among state and regional collections.

From the late 1940s, the Holocaust survivors and their descendants began restitution claims. Private collectors, public institutions, and whole governments are being sued to this day for the return of confiscated goods to their former owners or descendants.

Maria Altman in front of the restituted Klimt

With the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, members of the royal, aristocratic, and upper class families, who were chased out of their countries, began similar restitution claims, which, in many cases are successful.

To this we may perhaps add the continuous battle of the Greek government for the return of the Elgin marbles; and the energetic efforts of Dr Zahi Hawass for the return of Egyptian antiquities from museums around the world to Egypt.

However, the confiscation and nationalisation of private collections by the Soviet Authorities in 1918 seems to have remained out of bounds; and the restitution claims of Morozov’s heirs hitherto remained unsuccessful.

Fifty three members of the Romanov family were alive at the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Eighteen of them were murdered between 1918 and 1919, including Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, and their five children. The heirs of surviving Romanovs are alive today. If the legal precedent is established by the Morozov claim, the legality of the ownership of the National Gallery of Victoria’s The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo may also be questioned.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

May 2019
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