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Lot 49: Oil Painting „Alexander von Humboldt", after Karl Begas, 19th C
December 7, 2012
Berlin, GermanyLive Auction
Oil on canvas
Germany, early 19th century
After Karl Joseph Begas (1794-1854) - German painter
Framed in elegant ripple moulding frame
Overall dimensions, framed: 99 x 84.5 cm
This elegant, reserved portrait shows Alexander von Humboldt, after a portrait by Karl Joseph Begas. We see an elderly Humboldt in front of a monochrome green-brown background that looks slightly brighter around the person. Humboldt wears an elegant, brown coat over a white shirt with popped collar and a white knot around the neck. The symbol of the order Pour Le Mérite for the sciences and arts is around the collar, the bestowal of which was the cause for the original portrait by Karl Begas. The Pour Le Mérite medal was originally a military Order of Merit founded by Frederick the Great. At Humboldt's urging, Frederick Wilhelm IV founded a civil class of the order under the name Pour La Mérite for Sciences and Arts in 1842. The same year, Humboldt received the order and was named its chancellor.The painting is in good condition, protected by a varnish and displays minor touch ups. The beautiful ripple moulding frame is also in good condition with few chips. The attachment of the canvas to the stretcher frame was reinforced on the top and bottom by a narrow strip of wood. The overall dimensions , framed, are 99 x 84.5 cm, the dimensions of the stretcher frame are 76.5 x 63.5 cm.Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
Humboldt was born the son of the chamberlain of the crown princess of Prussia and grew up in Tegel Palace, where he and his brother Wilhelm were educated by humanist and enlightened home tutors. The brothers, after benefitting from an extraordinarily comprehensive education at home, began studying at the Viadrina in Frankfurt / Oder, but soon transferred to Göttingen. After his studies, Humboldt joined the public service, where he quickly climbed up the ladder. However, he retired in 1798 in order to pursue his scientific ambitions. Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt undertook several expeditions to Central and South America, which he concluded with a visit to the President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson. After his return, he resided in Paris before he set forth for Russia on another expedition. In 1859, the widely travelled Humboldt returned to Berlin, where he was a welcome, if deemed slightly too liberal-enlightened, guest. He was consulted for numerous diplomatic missions and functioned in political and scientific fields. The honorary citizen of Berlin died in 1859 and received a state funeral. His grave can still be visited in Tegel Palace.Karl Joseph Begas (1794-1854)
Karl (also Carl) Begas was descended from an originally Belgian family and grew up in Cologne. After an initial education at the Lyceum in Bonn, he went to Paris in 1813 to study. In 1814, he drew the attention of Frederick Wilhelm III in Paris and from then on he was sponsored by the Prussian King. He undertook an educational trip to Italy from 1822 until 1825 and aligned himself with the Nazarene. In 1825, he moved to Berlin, married and became a professor at the academy. He was able to blend his Parisian and Italian influences, leading him to a new combination of realism and romanticism. When the civil class of the order Pour Le Mérite was founded in 1842, a year later Begas was given the task of portraying the dignitaries, including Alexander von Humboldt.