Winterhalter’s Portraits in Vintage Photographs: Winter Palace

Winter Palace

I love finding images of Winterhalter’s works in vintage photographs – such as this photo from the interiors of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.

The above image represents the study of the Emperor Alexander II, and it is believed to have been taken in the early 1880s, shortly after his assassination. The eagle-eyed Winterhalter fans would readily recognise on the lower left the portrait of the Emperor’s mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1798-1860, née Charlotte Prinzessin von Preussen), painted by Winterhalter in Germany, in Wildbad, in 1856, and showing the  Empress Dowager in a white gown with turquoise jewellery – traditional signs of mourning at the Russian Imperial Court.

The portrait of the Emperor’s mother is complemented on the lower right by the portrait of the Emperor’s wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna (1824-80, née Wilhelmina Marie Prinzessin von Hessen-Darmstadt), painted by Winterhalter also in Germany, in 1857, with the sittings recorded at Bad Kissingen and Brückinau in late July 1857. It would be no exaggeration to state that the portrait became one of the most beloved images of the Empress, being popularised through versions, copies, and prints directly after – or inspired by – the portrait.

Portraits of the Emperor’s father, Emperor Nicholas I, and of the Emperor’s grand-mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna (wife of Pavel I), by other artists, can also be distinguished on the walls. The two Winterhalter portraits sandwich a later portrait of the Empress Maria Alexandrovna by Heinrich von Angeli, who would later succeed Winterhalter at the British Court as one of Queen Victoria’s favourite portrait painters. 

It is believed that the two Winterhalter portraits had remained in the Emperor’s study at the Winter Palace, which was left untouched following his assassination in 1881. Both portraits were loaned to the celebrated exhibition of portraits from Russian private collections, which took place at the Tauride Palace in 1905 and curated by Sergei Diagilev. They also appear to have featured in the exhibition celebrating the Tercentenary of the Romanov Dynasty in 1913. Following the Revolution of 1917, the portraits were nationalised with the rest of the Imperial Collections, and have entered the collections of the State Hermitage.

© Dr Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 17 July 2019


Cecile Furtado-Heine – Biographical Note

Furtado-Heine - Detail

It is worthwhile to provide the following biographical note about the sitter in the previously mentioned Hermann Winterhalter’s portrait of Mme Furtado-Heine.

Mlle Cécile Charlotte Furtado (Paris 6 March 1821 – Rocquencourt 10 December 1896) was a daughter of Elie Furtado, the chief rabbi of Bayonne, and Rose Fould, a daughter of Beer Léon Fould, banker and the mayor of Rocquencourt. She married in 1838 Charles Heine (1810-1865), a scion of a rich banking dynasty and first cousin of the poet Heinrich (Henri) Heine (1797-1856).

Mme Furtado-Heine was chiefly known for her philanthropy in the areas of medicine, education, and religion. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, she supported the Red Cross and the ambulance services; and in 1895 she bequeathed her villa in Nice as a hospital and sanatorium for wounded and convalescent soldiers. In 1884 she founded and endowed an orphanage in the 14th Arrondissement on the street which was renamed Rue Furtado-Heine in her honour after her death, as well as similar children’s establishments in Bayone and Montrouge.

She was a generous donor to the Institut Pasteur, and her commemorative bust still adorns the halls of the Institute. Mme Furtado-Heine also generously contributed to numerous Jewish charities and benevolent organisations; and financially supported the building of new synagogues in France and Belgium.

Her charitable and philanthropic endeavours were recognised by the Government of France, and in 1896 she became the Officer of the Legion d’Honneur, a distinction very rare for a woman in the nineteenth century.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 2013

Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the Demidov Portrait

Avrorva Stjernvall Demidova 1868 Winterhalter

Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the Demidov Portrait

In this entry, I propose that the portrait by F.X. Winterhalter 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.

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).

However, 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.

Furthermore, 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.

Demidova_s_synom_PavlomDEMIDOVAAurora_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 PERIGNONAvrorva Stjernvall Demidova 1868 WinterhalterThe 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 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.

While 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.

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!