Portrait of Virginie de Sainte-Aldegonde by Hermann Winterhalter at Christie’s, 1 Feb 2012

January 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Portrait of Virginie de Sainte-Aldegonde by Hermann Winterhalter at Christie’s, 1 Feb 2012 

A watercolour by Hermann Winterhalter is coming up for auction at Christie’s London, in their South Kensington rooms, on 1 February 2012, sale no 4219, 19th Century European Art, lot 96.

This very fine and charming watercolour is a copy by Hermann Winterhalter after a celebrated portrait by his brother, Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73), of Mlle Virginie Marie Louise de Sainte-Aldegonde, the future Duchesse de Rochechouart-Mortemart (1834-1900), of 1839 [Winterhalter Catalogue, no 162].

The portrait shows the five-year-old Virginie seated out of doors, in white dress with red patterned sash around her waist, pantaloons and black lace-up shoes showing from underneath the skirt. Her hair is parted in the middle and fashionably arranged in cascading ringlets. She is leaning, boldly and innocently, on a massive dog, and puts her arm around its neck. The pair is placed in a seaside setting on a small sandy hillock with sparse shrubbery on either side of the picture; a seascape with swirling clouds is visible in the background.

Winterhalter underscores the high social standing of the girl (she was a scion of an old aristocratic family) with such trappings of aristocratic portraiture as landscape setting, an architectural detail of a building in the background, as well as the dog itself, most likely a Neapolitan mastiff, used for hunting, which was historically a privilege reserved for the land-owning aristocracy. At the same time, the motif of a girl with a dog within a landscape and a quasi-Mediterranean setting give the picture a more general appeal of a genre composition that transcends the strict limitation of portraiture. This ‘universality’ was of major importance in the annals of the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century portrait painting, and Franz Xaver Winterhalter succeeds here with aplomb.

As such, this painting can be placed among other Winterhalter’s children portraits of the era, that strike a careful balance between a portrait and a genre painting, such as Princess Maria Colonna by a Garden Pool (1834, oil on canvas, Private Collection, no 91) and Children of Baron von Schweitzer (1835, oil on canvas, Private Collection, no 104).

The original portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter was lent to the exhibition Winterhalter: Portraits de Dames du Second Empire, at Galerie Jacques Seligmann, in Paris, in 1928, by its then owner and descendant of the sitter, Comte de Mortemart (no 18). (It is presumed that the portrait remains by descent in the family.)

The portrait was lithographed by Alphonse Martinet (1821-1861), and published by Goupil & Vibert on 1 June 1844; the print was subsequently exhibited by Martinet at the 1844 Salon as Jeune fille avec un chien (no 2372).

Hermann Winterhalter, an academically-trained painter and a gifted artist in his own right, frequently assisted his older brother, Franz Xaver, with preparation of copies. Given the fact that Hermann only joined Franz Xaver’s studio in Paris no earlier than 1840, this wonderful watercolour can be dated from around the early 1840s, and as such may have been prepared by Hermann Winterhalter expressly as an aide for the lithographer Martinet in preparation of a print after the portrait.

The watercolour measures 21.4 x 27 cm; signed lower right H. Winterhalter c.; and estimated at £ 2,000-£4,000. Earlier provenance is currently unknown. It has been added to my catalogue of Hermann Winterhalter’s works (under the provisionary no 137).

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 2012

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