A Slight Case of Bartering

August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Rubens LadyA Slight Case of Bartering

Wilhelm von Bode’s memoirs offer another proof to the existence of the portraits of Barthold Suermondt and Nancy Haniel Suermondt (as mentioned in the previous post). Von Bode mentions that instead of receiving a full payment for their portraits, Winterhalter agreed to accept “zwei treffliche Frauenbildnisse von Rubens und Bordone” instead [Bode 1997, 305-6].

This off-the-cuff remark reveals that Winterhalter was not averse to bartering for his services, and also demonstrates how highly Winterhalter’s portraits were valued at the time, as the swap for two Old Master paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens and Paris Bordone seemed like a fair deal to such a seasoned art collector as Barthold Suermondt.

Von Bode goes on to say that Friedrich, Crown Prince of Prussia, saw the two Old Master portraits in Winterhalter’s studio in Baden (presumably in Karlsruhe), and immediately decided that these should be added to the collection of artworks he was gathering for his museum in Berlin (today the Bode Museum). This may have taken place around 1867 when the Crown Prince and his wife, Crown Princess Victoria, commissioned a pair of portraits from Winterhalter and presumably visited his studio in the process.

The artist promised that the Crown Prince could have the two Old Master portraits after his death. However, when Winterhalter died in 1873, it was discovered that the two paintings were bequeathed to his brother, Hermann Winterhalter. They were still in Hermann’s collection at the time of his death in 1891.

Under the terms of Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter’s will, the Rubens and Bordone paintings were offered to Victoria, Dowager Empress of Germany, at 50.000 marks. To the best of my knowledge, the Rubens portrait is today in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin; while the Bordone portrait remained by descent in the Empress’s family, and is today at the Schloß Fasanerie, Fulda.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2014

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