Book Review: Gabriel Badea-Päun, The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of Elegance

July 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

Badea-Paun Society Portrait 2007Sunday, 8 July 2012

Book Review: Gabriel Badea-Päun, The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of Elegance (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).

Gabriel Badea-Päun’s The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of Elegance (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007) is an elegant publication, beautifully presented, and lavishly illustrated. It traces the history and development of society portraiture over the two-hundred year period, from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth century. As such, it is a major and commendable feat. For most of the volume, the author does not deviate much from the major portrait painters active during the nineteenth-century, and talks of Jacques-Louis David, François Gérard, Francisco Goya, Thomas Lawrence, J.A.D. Ingres, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gustav Klimt, John Singer Sargent, J.A.M. Whistler, Philip de Laszlo, Giovanni Boldini, etc.

However, he also includes relatively lesser known names, such Claude-Marie Dubufe and his son, Edouard Dubufe, Hippolyte Frlandrin, Alfred de Dreux, Théodore Chassériau, Léon Bonnat, William Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel, Jean-Jacques Henner, Carolus-Duran, Alfred Stevens, James Tissot, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Paul-César Helleu, Antonio de La Gandara, and others.

The treat for a portraiture enthusiast like myself is contained in the last quarter of the volume, where Badea-Päun focuses on society portraiture of the twentieth century, a very under-researched and underappreciated area of scholarship. He includes discussions on Paul-Albert Besnard, Jacques-Emile Blanche, Jean-Gabriel Domergue, Edouard Vuillard, Kees van Dongen, Tamara de Lempicka, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Salvador Dali, Pietro Annigoni, and Andy Warhol, and mentions important society photographers, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, and David Seidner.

Though the volume is rather on the Francophile side (and apart from Valentin Serov, no Eastern-European artist made it into the book), it shows the breadth of the author’s knowledge, awareness of the current and emergent studies on these artists, and an ambitious intention to survey society portraiture across political and geographical frontiers.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter features prominently in the book. His splendid portrait of Maharajah Duleep Singh of 1854 is illustrated on the back jacket cover; seven portraits are illustrated inside, including two lavish double-page spreads of The Royal Family (1846) and Empress Eugénie with her Ladies-in-Waiting (1855). At the very beginning of his volume, Badea-Päun virtually credits Winterhalter’s retrospective exhibition of 1987-1988 with the resurgence of interest in nineteenth-century society portraiture (33). However, I found the actual essay on Winterhalter riddled with numerous inaccuracies. For example, he claims that “in 1828 Franz Xaver suddenly received a commission to paint the portrait of the Grand Duke of Baden” (86). This is clearly erroneous, as Winterhalter enjoyed the patronage of the Grand Duke of Baden from 1824. The identity and the date of the portrait is also clearly confused, as Winterhalter did not paint a portrait of Grand Duke Ludwig I in 1828, but rather that of his successor, Leopold I, and not until 1831. It was neither “sudden” nor “stroke of fortune”, as Badea-Päun claims, but a steady progression of the Grand Ducal patronage.

The statement that Winterhalter was introduced to Louis-Philippe, King of the French, by Louise-Marie, Queen of the Belgians, is also debatable (88), as it is the King’s sister, Mme Adélaïde, who is credited with instigating Winterhalter’s first portrait commissions from the French Royal Family. The suggestion that Winterhalter’s invitation to Compiègne by the Emperor and Empress of the French in 1853 was “prompted by his recent portraits of the imperial couple,” is also erroneous as the completion of the portraits in late December clearly post-dates Winterhalter’s sojourn in Compiègne in October. Winterhalter was awarded the Gold Medal at the 1855 Exposition Universelle not for his Imperial portraits, as stated in the article (93), but rather for his contribution to the pavilion of (and as a representative of) Baden. Winterhalter did not travel to St Petersburg in 1857 to paint Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia (96). Rather, the portrait was painted a year earlier, in 1856, and much closer to home, in the German spa town of Wildbad. Further inaccuracies are to be found in his captions to illustrations of Winterhalter’s works.

It truly makes me wonder how accurate is the information contained in the rest of the book, and whether scholars and experts on other artists discussed in the book have also come up with a list of similar inconsistencies in the respective areas of their expertise. This mars an otherwise beautiful volume and a valuable overarching source on the last two hundred years of society portraiture.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to the online Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter Catalogue and these blog entries? Have you heard more news about the works by these artists at auctions and exhibitions? Then do not delay and get in touch!

Book Review: The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoléon III

July 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Second Empire 1852-1870 Art in France under Napoléon IIISaturday, 7 July 2012

Book Review: The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoléon III

It was a pleasure to revisit the erudite catalogue of The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoléon III (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art; Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts; Paris: Grand Palais, 1978-1979), which I had studied earlier during the nascent stages of my Winterhalter research. It was a ground-breaking exhibition inasmuch as anything that focused on aspects of nineteenth-century art other than David, Ingres, Delacroix, and Impressionism prior to the 1990s was ground-breaking. This volume remains an invaluable source of for any researcher working in the field of Second Empire or nineteenth-century art in general, or indeed Franz Xaver Winterhalter in particular.

For example, excellent overarching essays by Jean-Marie Moulin (‘Art and Society’, 11-16); Kathryn B. Hiesinger and Joseph Rishel (‘Art and Its Critics’, 29-34); Geneviève Lacambre and Donald Rosenthal (‘Painting’, 243-7), provide invaluable contextualisation for the study and appreciation of Winterhalter’s works in particular and portraiture in general during the era.

The inclusion of interior studies by Jean-Baptiste-Fortuné de Fournier and Jean Sorieul provide valuable provenance information about Winterhalter’s portraits. A study of jewellery by Gabriel Lemonnier give a valuable historical information on the Imperial Crowns of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie which can be seen in the portraits by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of 1853 (oil on canvas, destroyed); or the official jewelled insignia of the Imperial ladies-in-waiting, also by Lemonnier, for one can find between the lines an explanation as to why it is not worn by the Empress’s ladies in Winterhalter’s monumental group portrait of 1855 (oil on canvas, Compiègne).

The inclusion in the exhibition of portraits of Napoleon III by Alexandre Cabanel (1865, oil on canvas, Walters Art Gallery) and Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin (c.1860, oil on canvas, Versailles) furnish a valuable comparison of the Emperor’s depiction by Winterhalter; while the examination of Thomas Couture’s unfinished The Baptism of the Prince Imperial (1856-62, oil on canvas, Compiègne) allows for a deeper understanding of the circumstances under which Winterhalter’s portrait of the Empress with the Prince Imperial of 1857 was created (oil on canvas, Private Collection). Another curious inclusion is Paul Baudry’s Portrait of the Son of the Comtesse Swiekowska as the Young Saint John (1860, oil on canvas, Private Collection), inasmuch as, according to my research, the same sitter commissioned portraits of herself and her son from Winterhalter during the 1860s. (Incidentally, Baudry’s portrait was recently sold by Christie’s Paris for €115,000).

494 1854 Eugenie Winterhalter The exhibition included two paintings by Winterhalter, the 1854 portrait of the Empress Eugénie in eighteenth-century dress (oil on canvas, Metropolitan) and the above-mentioned group portrait of the Empress with her ladies-in-waiting. A short biographical article was furnished by Odile Sebastiani, though her three-hundred word entry is rife with inaccuracies. Granted, the exhibition catalogue predates the ground-breaking research on the artist by Dr Armin Panter, Hubert Mayer and the Winterhalter exhibition team, so factual mistakes within such a relatively early publication are almost forgivable.

For example, Sebastiani states “his early life remains a mystery”, “the biographers are not in agreement on the date of his birth”, or that “the chronology of his youth is uncertain” (357). All these inconsistencies were to be righted more than a decade later, in an utmost detail, by Panter and Mayer. Her statement that “portraits of the ducal family of Baden are generally ascribed to the period after his return from Italy” is clearly erroneous and not as readily forgivable, as even the most cursory research would have shown that Winterhalter began his work for the Badenese Grand Ducal family as early as 1828. She further writes that, after leaving France at the time of the 1848 revolution, he did not return until 1853, which is once again highly erroneous, as there is definite evidence that he resumed his portraits practice in Paris late in 1849.

The idea that he was “immediately commissioned to paint the portraits of the Emperor and the Empress” is also erroneous, as there were at least half-a-dozen other artists who were commissioned to paint Napoleon III and Eugénie prior to Winterhalter. But, I fully agree with Sebastiani’s final statement that “today, Winterhalter’s works have acquired the charm of all that conjures up a past period; one cannot deny the extraordinary virtuosity of this artist.”

Odile Sebastiani’s catalogue entry on the 1855 portrait of the Empress with her ladies is quite accurate, and her overarching observation is most apt:  “This work has had a surprising destiny that of being loved at the same time by crowned heads and the masses but rejected by the critics of art” (359). On the other hand, the catalogue entry on the 1854 portrait of the Empress Eugénie in eighteenth-century dress, contributed by Joseph Rishel, suffers from a number of factual mistakes, which I would likewise attribute to the early period of Winterhalter scholarship. Rishel’s statement that “the early history of this charming painting is not known” is erroneous, as the provenance of the portrait is clearly documented; and contrary to his assertion, the portrait was painted prior to the Empress’s appearance in an eighteenth-century dress at a court ball.

Last but not least, the exhibition catalogue has to be commended for the inclusion of the most detailed provenance and bibliographic information with every catalogue entry that would furnish any burgeoning or seasoned researcher with a wealth of primary and early twentieth-century publications on art and its patronage during the Second Empire.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to the online Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter Catalogue and these blog entries? Have you heard more news about the works by these artists at auctions and exhibitions? Then do not delay and get in touch!

Book Review: Desmond Seward, Eugénie: The Empress and her Empire (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 2004).

July 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Seward Eugenie BookThursday, 5 July 2012

Book Review: Desmond Seward, Eugénie: The Empress and her Empire (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 2004).

One of the quirks of writing a doctoral thesis is the requirement to show your knowledge and awareness of recent publications within your area of study. This stipulation can be rather ironic, especially when older, primary sources are by far more detailed, knowledgeable and accurate compared to the subsequently produced works. This is also applicable to a number of biographies I read in conjunction with my thesis. For example, I am currently working on a chapter that examines a selection of portraits by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of Eugénie, Empress of the French, which has certainly necessitated a detailed study of the Empress’s biographies. Most of the illuminating accounts that provide invaluable insights to the understanding of the Empress’s portraits by Winterhalter come from Eugénie’s contemporaries. More recent accounts tend to rehash the stories from the primary sources, and, in my opinion, apart from an excellent account by Patrick Turnbull, a more insightful and analytical examination of Eugénie’s biography is yet to be found.

However, in order to avoid annoying remarks from the future examiners about the exclusion of more recent publications, I recently turned to the Empress’s biography by Desmond Seward. Published in 2004, it is perhaps among the most recent – and creditable – accounts of Eugénie’s life. The biographical account is rather broad and cursory, lasting for no more than 300 pages. The writer confesses in the prologue to the paucity of any new information on the Empress, and even states that as far as the Empress’s biography is concerned, “nothing significant remains to be found.” Although most of the materials utilised within his pages have been published and quoted elsewhere, I commend the author for organising the wealth of information on the Empress in thematic sub-chapters. It allows for a closer and deeper examination of multifarious aspects of Eugénie’s life, such as her interest in politics; passion for fashion; intense religiosity; interest in Marie-Antoinette, etc.

On the other hand, and it is perhaps the fault of the editorial board rather than the writer, the endnotes are presented at the back of the book in a rather jumbled way rather than in a proper, scholarly manner. As the result, many of the statements and quotes remain unreferenced and unsubstantiated, including a supposed response by Napoleon III to Winterhalter’s monumental portrait of the Empress with the ladies of her court of 1855: “Not a man in it.”

Speaking of whom, Winterhalter features prominently in the book – the striking portrait of 1864 adorns the jacket cover; black and white illustrations include the copy after the 1853 official portrait, the group portrait of 1855, and Napoleon III’s portrait of 1857. The artist is mentioned throughout the book, without major inaccuracies. I would only take umbrage to a passage on page 53, where in a broad statement Seward declares that ‘contemporaries say he never did justice to her beauty’. Such statement is clearly erroneous, for it counters testimonials by Auguste Filon and Amelie Carette among others (who are referenced elsewhere in the book and listed in the bibliography). He supports this statement by a quote from Lillie Moulton; but surely, to remain objective and relevant, one ought to consider a cross-section of opinions rather than a single point of view.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012

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