Portrait of Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776-1857) (copy) @ Gorringes (cat no 389) [Part 1]

Duchess of Gloucester 1850 Winterhalter Copy

Portrait of Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776-1857) (copy) @ Gorringes [Part 1]

Replicas and copies of Winterhalter’s works are becoming increasingly valuable on the art market. However, they can still slip by unnoticed and undetected with a relative ease at art auctions.

For example, the auction house Gorringes, of Lewes, East Sussex, featured in one of their auctions in April 2006 a painting which they described as “Victorian School, Portrait of an Old Lady” (illustrated above).

The painting is, in fact, an exceptionally fine copy of Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s Portrait of Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776-1857), the original of which, signed and dated as painted in 1850, is in the collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, possibly at Buckingham Palace.

The portrait shows Queen Victoria’s seventy-four year old aunt at head-and-shoulders, in half-turn to the left, turning her head towards the viewer. Her hair is parted in the middle and plaited around the ears in an early Victorian style. It is covered by a blue and white lace headdress, which is fastened under her chin, and descends onto her shoulders. The Duchess is wearing a dark-brown day dress, possibly of satin or silk, with ruches and embroideries, and with a white collar edged with lace. Her decorations comprise of a single golden brooch just visible under the lace; and a heavy pendant, possibly a large miniature or a watch, suspended from a heavy gold chain.

The portrait clearly shows Winterhalter’s versatility in depicting sitters of all ages. The artist has been frequently accused of beautifying and idealising his sitters, but as this portrait shows, he does not shy away from the veristic though sympathetic depiction of the venerable old age.

I have only seen a photograph of the work at Gorringes online, and not in high resolution. It is most likely a copy by William Corden, a professionally trained painter of extraordinary talent, who, together with his son William was employed by Queen Victoria almost exclusively as a copyist. However, the exceptionally high quality of the portrait, that comes forth even through this low resolution, makes me wonder whether this could be indeed Winterhalter’s own replica.

To be continued … [see part 2].

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 2014

Florinda @ Koller West, 20 March 2013 (c.f. cat. no. 456)

Florinda Watercolour Copy 01

Florinda @ Koller West, 20 March 2013 (c.f. cat. no. 456)

This watercolour came up at Koller, in Zurich, Switzerland, previously on 17 September 2012 (lot 6635); and again recently on 20 March 2013 (lot 6627).

It is immediately apparent that the watercolour is based on Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s celebrated painting, Florinda, painted by the artist in 1852, exhibited that very same year at the Royal Academy in London, and immediately purchased by Queen Victoria as a birthday present for her husband, Prince Albert. The painting remains by descent in the Royal Collection (c.f. cat. no. 456).

Winterhalter must have been so satisfied with the painting that he decided to produce an almost exact replica to be exhibited at the Salon, in Paris, in 1853. The work was eventually purchased by an American collector, and is today at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (c.f. cat. no. 474).

Just who and at what point produced this watercolour remains unclear.

Florinda Watercolour Copy 02

First and foremost, the initials on the right hand side of the watercolour, F.W., are not in Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s handwriting, and this in turn makes the entire watercolour problematic.

As such, the watercolour immediately attracts greater scrutiny, and the technique, brushwork, application of (rather faded) pigments, and the interpretation of the female prototypes all comes into questioning.

Florinda Watercolour Copy 03

While it is known that Hermann Winterhalter frequently produced watercolour copies after his brother’s paintings, mainly as visual aids for lithographers and engravers, they were mainly done in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Furthermore, they were usually and clearly signed by Hermann Winterhalter. There is no indication that this practice continued into the 1850s, and in any case, Franz Winterhalter’s initials on this work that are neither in Franz’s nor in Hermann’s handwriting further throw Hermann’s authorship in doubt.

Therefore, this work might be a nineteenth-century copy by an unknown artist at best. Winterhalter’s Florinda was so celebrated at the time that it was engraved and lithographed on at least three separate occasions by three separate artists between 1857 and 1864. It is pure speculation whether or not this work might somehow relate to the production of these engravings and lithographs.

Admittedly, on both occasions, in September 2012 as well as in March 2013, Koller cautiously entered this watercolour, which measures 29.0 x 40.0 cm, in their catalogues as zugeschrieben, or ‘attributed’, with the estimates of 3,000-4,000 CHF / € 2,460-3,280. At the time of writing, the work remains unsold.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2013