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