Posts Tagged ‘Winterhalter


Franz Xaver Winterhalter: A Question of Attribution

Duchesse d'Aumale by Franz Schrotzberg 1842Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Dear Diary,

I have been lately neglectful of these pages. Most of my spare time has been occupied by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873). I have recently completed MA thesis on the artist, for which I have been awarded top marks by international examiners. My research and scholarship on Winterhalter is being acknowledged worldwide. My online catalogue of his works is attracting more and more hits. Every week I receive two or three emails from museums, galleries, auction houses, private collectors, researches, and scholars from around the world regarding various aspects of Winterhalter’s works, including information, provenance, authentication, as well as many and valuable additions to the catalogue, which is fast becoming a truly international effort!

A few weeks ago I received an email from a French gentleman of ancient and noble lineage. As far as French aristocracy goes, his family outranks every other noble in the country and is placed somewhere on a step just below royalty. He informed me that one of his ancestors may have been painted by Winterhalter, and he was going to email me a picture of the portrait. I was very excited about the possibility of adding such an illustrious name – and such a prestigious collection – to the Winterhalter catalogue, so waited with a baited breath.

The picture has finally arrived. It showed a beautiful young woman, with large soulful eyes looking directly at the viewer, her fine oval face framed with tight black curls. She was wearing a beautiful dress of pale blue silk, richly edged with delicate lace; a gauze shawl encircled her skirt and covered one of her arms.

Alas, the picture was not by Winterhalter. I am not at liberty to reproduce it here, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was painted in the 1840s. It was clearly done by a professional portrait painter, and most likely by a French one. The face, the shoulders, the dress, and the lace were all beautifully painted, but the workmanship, the brushwork, the style, and indeed the overall feel of the painting was not consistent with other works by Winterhalter of the era. Even the signature on the painting was not done in Winterhalter’s handwriting, and was perhaps added later.

It took me several days to come up with the right words to respond to the gentleman’s email. I sincerely wished for this illustrious name to be added to the catalogue, but, alas, the professional credibility has prevented me from bending my strict rules about the authentication of Winterhalter’s paintings and admitting a work into the catalogue which I knew, in my heart of hearts, to be not by the artist.

I still vividly recall viewing a portrait of the Duchesse d’Aumale at a French palace (illustrated above). It was likewise believed to be by Winterhalter, and its attribution to the artist was never doubted as it has been in the family collection since the 1840s. Nevertheless, I questioned the validity of such attribution on the grounds similar to the ones discussed above. My doubts were not dismissed, and when the painting was taken out of the frame, the curators discovered a signature of Franz Schrotzberg (1811-1889), a famous Viennese artist, celebrated for his portraits of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The portrait has been displayed since under the correct artist’s name.

Hopefully, with further research, the name of the artist, who painted that beautiful portrait in the gentleman’s collection, will also be discovered, and the picture at last will take pride of place in that artist’s oeuvre.

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


Review of Portraits @ Menzies March 2010 Auction

Lot 26 - Brett Whiteley - John SingletonSunday, 21 March 2010

Dear Diary,

Given my interest in portraiture, I became more aware of portraits that appear in Australian auction rooms. Internationally, portraits by Old, Modern, and Contemporary masters at auctions form a very distinct group, and those by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Reynolds, Lawrence, Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, van Gogh, Klimt (and my very own Winterhalter) have broken auction records and / or brought significant results.

The situation is dramatically different in Australia, where portraits at auctions are few and far between. This can be attributed in part to the fact, that the majority of portraits that appear in Australian auction rooms (but not all!!!) fail to progress from being a mere likeness of a person to that of a transcendent and sophisticated work of art of universal appeal. The former rarely make it to the market and largely continue lingering in artists’ studios or the homes of their sitters unless they are donated to public institutions or appear at lower-end art clearance sales. The latter however make their distinguished appearance at the upper end of the auction market, bringing good sales results, with some inspired bidding from both institutional and private collectors.

Lot 34 - Rupert Bunny - Portrait of Jeanne(Deutscher-)Menzies auction in December 2009 featured a number of interesting portraits. They had, for example, a striking in its originality portrait of John Singleton by Brett Whiteley (sold $55,000 hammer); a beautifully intimate portrait by Rupert Bunny of his wife, Jeanne (sold $396,000 hammer); a mask-like portrait of an African prince, Kininga Wunca, by Donald Friend (unsold); and William Dobell’s preparatory drawing for his celebrated portrait of Helena Rubenstein (sold $1,600 hammer).

The auction also had two remarkable self-portraits – a dark and brooding “Self-Portrait in a Country Town” by Rick Amor (unsold), and a rather irreverent in its larrikinism “Self Portrait (The Afternoon Walk, Dunmoochin)” by John Olsen (sold $70,000 hammer).

The portraits by Whiteley and Bunny, and the self-portrait by Olsen illustrate the point. All three are big-name artists; all three have produced portraits, which are very much in the style and manner these artists are famous and admired for; these works have brought accordingly good results. Admittedly, the paintings of female nudes by Whiteley and Bunny on a similar scale (or of frogs and giraffes by Olsen) would have brought more significant sums, but the universal appeal of these works speaks for itself and is reflected in their art market prices.

Lot 43 - Rick Amor - Self-PortraitHelena Rubenstein by William Dobell is a celebrated portrait in the annals of Australian art, so it is not surprising that it has found a buyer (not to mention at a very modest price). On the other hand, Donald Friend is perhaps more known for his watercolours of nude South-East Asian youths (and later still lifes which are also popular on the market). Hence a rather heavy, mask-like portrait failed to find a buyer.

Sadly, the same can be said of Rick Amor’s work. I deeply admire his self-portraits, which encapsulate the inner, psychological darkness that is so prevalent in his landscapes. However, it appears that the art buying public is able to take more easily to his landscapes, the physiological loading of which can be read ambiguously (or perhaps completely ignored by a certain cross-section of buyers). Not so with the self-portraits, which are more often than not direct, confronting, and uncompromising. It is sad – though not surprising – that this portrait did not find a buyer on the auction night.

Lot 142 - Artist Unknown - Portrait of a GirlI do acknowledge that the line-up of artworks is largely dependent on what an auction house is able to consign from its vendors, so chasing an impressive selection of portraits (or indeed any such “curatorial” agenda) would be far from the auctioneers’ mind – unless they strike a golden vein and develop the market and / or collectors’ following in this genre.

Therefore, I am saying the following as an observation rather than a recrimination or criticism – the representation of portraits in Menzies’ forthcoming auction is much thinner on the ground as compared to the previous auction of December 2009. In fact, it is limited to a charmingly naïve watercolour portrait of a girl by an unknown 19th-Century Australian artist (lot 142; est. $900-1,200). While the childish cherubic face is wonderfully, even sweetly resolved, the head is bizarrely out the proportion with the rest of the body. There is a beautiful lively glint in the girl’s eyes, but it does little to compensate for the inadequacy in the drawing of the rest of the figure.

Lot 35 - Norman Lindsay - Portrait of Rita(An argument can be raised that Norman Lindsay’s portrait of Rita (lot 35, est. $40,000-50,000), and Richard Larter’s innumerable depictions of his wife (for example, lot 110, est. $10,000-15,000) can be also treated and examined as portraits. However, the relationship between the artist and the model is quite different to that of the artist and the sitter. While the artists capture the general appearance, pose, and attitude of the models, their personalities and identities are more often than not sublimated (or even indeed sacrificed) in favour of the artists’ aesthetic approach and visual codification.)

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


“Portrait of a Lady” by F.X. Winterhalter @ Christie’s New York



Franz Xaver Winterhalter "Portrait of a Lady"Sunday, 3 January 2010

Dear Diary, 

A beautiful portrait of an unknown lady is coming up at Christie’s New York in late January –

While the identity of the female sitter in this portrait remains at this stage a mystery, the painting belongs stylistically to the period between the late 1850s to early 1860s, when Franz Xaver Winterhalter, the German-born international elite portrait specialist, was at the zenith of his fame.

At the time this portrait was painted, among Winterhalter’s patrons were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie of the French, Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, King William I and Queen Augusta of Prussia, not to mention Queen Olga of Württemberg, Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whose grandiloquent portraits of 1865 conclude this glittering period in Winterhalter’s career.

This painting, however, represents a more intimate side of Winterhalter’s portrait oeuvre, as well as his ability to restrain his painterly bravura in order to convey different aspects of his sitters’ personalities.

Perhaps the earliest known example of this is Winterhalter’s portrayal of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) of 1843: while the artist was working on the grandiose official representation of the Queen, wearing crown jewels and swathed in the Robes of the Order of the Garter (1843, oil on canvas, HM Queen Elizabeth II), he also painted an intimate head-and-shoulders portrait of Victoria, her hair undone and lips erotically parted (1843, oil on canvas, HM Queen Elizabeth II).

The list of Winterhalter’s paintings, compiled posthumously by his nephew, Franz Wild, indicates that commissions of such contrasting portraits became more prevalent from the late 1850s, and mainly came from the artist’s Russian and Polish sitters. Perhaps among the best known examples of this period are Winterhalter’s portraits of Princess Maria Vasilievna Worontzova (1819-1895). While the grand full-length portrait of the Princess shows her posing in a deep red velvet gown within the grounds of her palatial estate (1859, oil on canvas, formerly in the collection of Sir Robert Abdy, Bt.), a more intimate portrayal of Maria Vasilievna shows her similarly attired to the sitter in the present portrait in a white chiffon peignoir and posing against a darkened neutral background (c.1858-1859, oil on canvas, Private Collection).

Winterhalter continued to receive such intimate commissions towards the middle of the 1860s, when he created the celebrated official portrait of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria (1837-1898), in a tulle ball gown and diamond stars in her hair (1865, oil on canvas, Hofburg), which was preceded by a more intimate portrayal of the Empress with her hair undone and wearing once again a simple morning dressing gown (1864, oil on canvas, Hofburg).

The formal portraits of Winterhalter’s sitters went on displays in public exhibitions or placed within public areas of royal and princely abodes: for example, the portrait of Queen Victoria was set into the walls of the Throne Room at Windsor Castle, and the portrait of Princess Worontzova became one of the sensations of the Parisian Salon of 1859.

Smaller, intimate portrayals of the same sitters were intended for the eyes of their loved ones only, places within private spaces of their homes, and remained unseen until well after the sitter’s death (or even that of their immediate descendants). For example, intimate oval portraits of Queen Victoria and Empress Elisabeth were given to their respective spouses, placed in their private studies, and had not been publicly seen or reproduced until the 20th Century.

The portrait is reminiscent of Jean Baptiste Greuze’s (1725-1805) eroticised têtes de fantaisie, which regained their popularity towards the middle of the nineteenth century. The extreme close-up with its focus on the sitter’s face, the direct gaze, intimate negligee, and predominantly darkened neutral background of the painting convey a deeper sense of intimacy, as does the oval, ‘feminine’ shape of the canvas, which also reminds of portrait miniatures, often placed within jewelled lockets and worn close to one’s heart. The fact that the only piece of jewellery worn by the sitter in the present portrait is a wedding band on her finger shows that this work was also intended for the sitter’s spouse. The ring’s presence imparts a sense of modesty and propriety within an otherwise frankly erotic portrait.

The existence of this intimate work, rare in the artist’s oeuvre, bears testimony to the uniquely implicit level of trust that existed between Winterhalter and his exalted sitters. It also shows Winterhalter’s ability to interpret the protean nature of his sitters and differentiate between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ nature of human identity.

Given that the portrait was on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida, from a Private Collection, it would be interesting to see if the painting will be acquired by or for a public collection, which was the case with a number of portraits by Winterhalter which had recently come up on the art market.

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

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

July 2019
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