Posts Tagged ‘nineteenth century art


Day 314: Hélène Glorifiée, by Gustave Moreau


Day 314: Hélène Glorifiée, by Gustave Moreau

The image of the femme fatale, who brought death and destruction to mankind, is central to the oeuvre of Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). Helen of Troy, in whose name the famous war was fought, features in a number of his works.

The iconographic source for this watercolour is more obscure, and comes from Goethe’s Faust: “Faust, commanded by Mephisto to bring him the archetype of beauty, summons the spirit of Helen from Hades. Falling himself in love with Helen, Faust fathers her winged child Euphorion, who charms all with his beauty and gift for music before dying young and calling his mother back with him to Hades. She is represented in the present work surrounded and glorified by her eternal admirers, the warrior on the left, the poet and king on the right, and her son at her feet.” [Source:].

This work is distinguished by the high degree of finish as well as the use of mixed media (watercolour pigments with gouache and gold). The resulting effect is one of a rich and textured surface usually reserved for Moreau’s oil paintings that resemble pavé-set gem stones rather than an ordinary painted canvas. The richness of its colours (considering the age of this work) is a testament of an extreme care taken to preserve the original beauty of the fragile watercolour and gouache pigments by its various owners throughout the illustrious and dramatic history of this piece.

The exquisite watercolour by Gustave Moreau is among the highlights of Christie’s forthcoming 19th Century European Art sale in London, on 21 November 2012 (lot 14, est £300,000 – £500,000).

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 304: Señora Delicado de Imaz, by Vicente López y Portaña

López Portaña, Vicente Señora de Delicado Imaz

Day 304: Señora Delicado de Imaz, by Vicente López y Portaña

The portrait of Señora Delicado de Imaz by Vicente López y Portaña is arguably one of the most talked about works in the Portrait of Spain exhibition at the QAG. This is most likely due to the sheer visual dichotomy between the lady’s ostentatious finery and the lack of physical beauty (as far as the contemporary appreciation of this issue is concerned).

Indeed, Señora Delicado de Imaz wears a splendid fashionable gown of blue velvet, richly decorated with flounces of exquisitely delicate lace; her hair is arranged in an elaborately fashionable style culminating in the Apollo knot; sumptuous jewellery adorns the lady’s head, shoulders, and wrists. The fashionable opulence of this ‘woman of a certain age’ is paradoxically juxtaposed in the portrait to a rather masculine face; bushy eyebrows that almost meet in the middle, and the noticeably downy upper lip and chin.

According to the catalogue article, the portrait shows that López y Portaña, then at the height of his fame as an elite portrait specialist, was not a courtly or aristocratic toady, and did not shy away from the realistic portrayal of his august sitters, in keeping with the veristic tradition of his predecessors Velazquez and Goya.

I, however, am also tempted to consider this portrait of Señora Delicado de Imaz through the prism of an article by Susan Sidlauskas, “Not-beautiful: a counter-theme in the history of women’s portraiture” [in Shifrin, Susan (ed), Re-framing Representations of Women: Figuring, Fashioning, Portraiting, and Telling in the ‘Picturing’ Women Project, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2008]. Her essay examines portraits of ‘ladies of a certain age’ by Ingres, and contrasts them against the idealised portraits of his younger female sitters. She argues that portraits like these were created at the time when ‘women of a certain age’ were no longer supposed to be objects of sexual desire; and therefore artists of the era, such as Ingres, López y Portaña, and others intentionally portrayed older women as lacking in physical allure. /

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


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.


National Gallery of Victoria – Leon Pole’s ‘The Village Laundress’

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

… continued from the previous entry …

National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part III) 

Leon (Sonny) Pole (1871-1951) had inscribed himself onto the pages of Australian art history with his celebrated masterpiece, The Village Laundress (1891), which was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. The clarity of its composition; the complexity of its narrative; the mature resolve of its colour gamut; painterly dexterity, and keen awareness of contemporaneous art movements belie the artist’s comparative youth (he was only 20 when he painted this work). The presence of a narrative subject matter, the implementation of plein-air landscape painting practice, the sensitivity with which the scene is depicted, and the incorporation of muted colour schemes posits the painting in the epicentre of the divergent late nineteenth-century art movements and underscores the painting’s importance in the annals of Australian art.

Pole depicts a woman with two daughters traversing the narrow path that leads away from a humble cottage. Quiet introspection reigns over the woman’s face, and permeates the overall mood of the painting. While her figure is somewhat reminiscent of the labourers in paintings by Jean-François Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage, she shares none of their robust physique, nor does her demeanour show the joy of physical labour celebrated in the works of French realist painters. Instead, it is a sensitive and personal depiction of a young family, which emphasises the melancholy fact that they are forced to undertake this physically-intensive chore. The woman’s elegant attire, with fashionably elongated corset and hair swept back and piled high, is more suited to smart streets of an urban metropolis than to the unpaved pathways of rural outskirts.

The sobriety of the woman’s dress and her melancholy introspection perhaps point to a narrative of a lady from an upper-middle class background, recently widowed and fallen onto hard times, forced to eek out her living as a humble village laundress. I believe Luke Morgan echoed this view when he wrote some years ago that “the painting documents the changing circumstances of a Victorian family.”

The narrative of the composition takes place within a landscape setting, which is unmistakeably reminiscent of Heidelberg and its environs. While the figures are carefully modeled within a studio environment, the landscape is executed in a freer and more immediate manner, an artist’s response to the Impressionism-inspired spirit of Streeton, Conder, and Roberts, and the tonal sensibilities of Withers and Davies. It is visibly informed by Streeton’s Still Glides the Stream (AGNSW), from the small rise the middle ground to the distant hills in the upper right. Lyrical floral passages, suggestion of plants and flowers, which echo the hues of the girls’ dresses, and hints of delicate embroideries on their aprons, forebode the nascent Art Nouveau movement.

… to be continued… 

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries. This entry is partially based on my essay which originally appeared in Annual Collectors’ Exhibition 2008, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, 2008, 16-18.]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

April 2019
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