Carl Theodor von Piloty and Franz Adam
(Munich 1826–1886 Ambach on Lake Starnberg) and (Milan 1815–1886 Munich)
Empress Elisabeth of Austria as bride on horseback in Possenhofen 1853, signed, dated and inscribed n. d. N. v. Carl Piloty. Pferd v. Franz Adam 1853 [painted from nature by Carl Piloty, horse by Franz Adam 1853], oil on canvas, 128 x 108 cm, original frame, (Rei)
House of Habsburg.
The present painting shows the 15-year-old Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria and future Empress of Austria, in front of Possenhofen Castle with Lake Starnberg in the background. Here, she could spend untroubled childhood summers, far from the Munich court. The painting, dated 1853, was executed in the year of her engagement with the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. As recorded in the biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, published by Egon Caesar Conte Corti, this was a Christmas present to her betrothed. In return, Elisabeth also received a portrait of her future husband, who let himself be painted on horseback, wearing the uniform of the Imperial and Royal Uhlans. The Emperor is said to have been present at the painting of Elisabeth’s portrait, as Conti notes: “Sisi has her portrait painted, Franz Joseph sits by her side, to help her pass the time, and looks at her all the while.” (1)
Shortly after the work was delivered to Franz Joseph as a Christmas present, the Fremdenblatt already reported about it on 29 December 1853: the report describes how Elisabeth leads the horse with a gentle hand at a walking pace. While doing so, she wears a brown, gold-braided bodice and a grey hat with feathers. (2) The blue of her scarf and the borders of her bodice match that of the bow tied into the horse’s bridle, underlining the strong connection between the rider and the animal. The choice of subject may be understood as a reference to the great shared interest of the future bride and groom. Elisabeth is said to have remarked that riding was her favourite sport, and that those who are to be dear to her should support this enthusiasm. (3) Elisabeth, who was considered a gifted rider, presents herself confidently and elegantly to the viewer. She is able to control the horse, which appears nervous, and holds the reins in her hand, both in the literal and figurative sense. Her passion for riding, which she always did side-saddle, is something she maintained throughout the course of her life. The different facets of this sport – such as circus riding, the par force hunt, or classic riding – fascinated her. It is said that Elisabeth spent up to eight hours a day in the saddle. Numerous portraits depict her practicing the activity that she so loved. She also let her favourite horses be painted, as the “riding chapel” in the Imperial Carriage Museum (Wagenburg) in Vienna illustrates.
According to the “Inventory of the Personal Effects of His Majesty the Emperor in the Imperial Palace” (Inventar des Ah. Privateigenthums S. M. des Kaisers in der Hofburg), the painting, registered with the number 99, hung over the Emperor’s bed in his bedchamber, as the historic photograph of the Emperor’s private chambers testifies (ill. 1). Additionally, on the reverse of the painting, the original inscription, reading “bedchamber” (Schlafzimmer), is preserved in blue chalk on the stretcher. Although the estrangement of the married couple became ever stronger with time, the fact that Franz Joseph kept the portrait of his beloved Sisi in his private refuge through the years, is testament to the special importance of the portrait, dating back to the beginning of their bond.
Visitors to the Imperial Apartments in Vienna’s Hofburg can today still admire a copy of the painting in its original place above the imperial bed, since the original painting, following the death of the Emperor, passed into the ownership of his daughter Marie Valerie, as is noted in the “Partial inventory of the personal property in the Imperial and Royal Palace belonging to the allodial estate of His late Majesty, the Emperor and King Franz Joseph I” (Teil-Inventar über das zum Allodvermögen weiland Seiner Majestät des Kaisers und Königs Franz Joseph I. gehörige Mobiliarvermögen in der k. k. Hofburg) under no. 434. Marie Valerie, born the fourth child of the imperial couple, was Elisabeth’s favourite child, with whom Elisabeth felt able to live up to her role as mother for the first time. Due to the ceremony of the imperial court, which Elisabeth often perceived as restrictive, and because of her young age, the upbringing of the first-born children was decisively controlled by Franz Joseph’s mother, Archduchess Sophie.
Carl Theodor von Piloty (Munich 1826–1886), who was known at the Munich court and held in high regard as one of the most important representatives of German historical painting, received the commission to paint Elisabeth’s portrait. Following his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, he took over the Bavarian Lithographic Art Institute Piloty and Loehle (Königliche bayrische Lithographische Kunstanstalt Piloty und Loehle), which his father had founded. Having been appointed as professor at the Academy, he later became the teacher of many important 19th-century painters. His pupils included, among others, Hans Makart, Franz von Lenbach, Franz von Defregger and Carl Wopfner. Piloty, whose main focus was the depiction of historical scenes, entered new territory with the execution of his portrait of Elisabeth. He annotated the portrait of the young girl with the reference “n. d. N.” (“nach der Natur”, i.e. from nature) and claimed never before to have painted such a lovely face. (4)
Franz Adam (Milan 1815–1886 Munich), who was entrusted with the execution of the horse, was already a well-known artist in those years. A painter of the Austro-Sardinian War of 1848 in Radetzky’s entourage and later on the battle fields of Hungary, he gained an extensive reputation on the basis of his realistic method of representation, particularly of horses.
The painting of the young future Empress was frequently copied, as numerous engravings and reproductions attest. Today, one version can be found in the collection of the House of Thurn and Taxis (inventory no. StE 2720, ill. 2). It is probable that this version of the work was transferred to Regensburg by inheritance through the marriage of Elisabeth’s older sister Helene (Munich 1834–1890 Regensburg) to Hereditary Prince Maximilian von Thurn und Taxis (Regensburg 1831–1867) in 1858. This portrait differs from the original painting in small details: Elisabeth is dressed completely in black, three rather than two pigeons can be seen on the roof, and the pigeons on the window ledge also differ in the execution. Similarly, the blue bow is missing from the horse’s bridle.
The painting in question, accessible to the public for the first time, does not only present a graceful young girl before her marriage, but also marks a turning point in her life. It shows us a young, future Empress, whose fate is inseparably connected with Austrian history, still carefree and far away from any kind of constraints of the Imperial Court.
Caroline Ghiringhelli M.A. - Mag. Bianca Hawel
(1) Egon Caesar Conte Corti, Die seltsame Frau (Salzburg: Verlag Anton Pustet, 1934), p. 31.
(2) Austrian National Library, Historische österreichische Zeitungen und Zeitschriften [Historic Austrian Newspapers and Magazines], Fremden-Blatt, 29 December 1853, volume 7, no. 308, “Tages-Neuigkeiten”, p. 2.
(3) Egon Caesar Conte Corti, Mensch und Herrscher (Graz, Vienna, Altöttigen: Verlag Styria, 1952), p. 132.
Specialist: Mag. Dimitra Reimüller
realized price**EUR 1,540,000USD 1,731,500
estimateEUR 300,000 to 400,000USD 337,500 to 450,000
19th Century Paintings
Date: 27.04.2017, 17:00
Location: Palais Dorotheum Vienna
Exhibition: 15.04. - 27.04.2017
**Purchase price incl. all charges, commissions and taxes
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