Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805 - 1873)

Lot 45: Franz Xaver Winterhalter , 1805-1873 la siesta oil on canvas


November 19, 2008
London, United Kingdom

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Description: signed, dated and inscribed l.c.: F X Winterhalter 1844 Paris: stamped on the stretcher with the royal cypher, the Osborne inventory stamp of 1873 and the personal stamp of Queen Victoria oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements note 58 by 44 cm.; 22 ¾ by 17 ¼ in.
Literature: Osborne House inventory, 1873, no 188;
A. I. Durrant, Catalogue for the Paintings, Sculpture & other Works of Art at Osborne, 1876, p. 12, no. 188;
Sotheby's, Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott, 2008, pp. 44-47;

H. Cousins, published by E. Gambart, 1848;
H. Jazet, published by Goupil, 1860;
H. Louis, published by Goupil and Vibert.
Provenance: Queen Victoria, Osborne House, bought from the artist in 1841 for £200;
Thence by descent to her son Arthur, Duke of Connaught;
Thence by descent to his daughter Lady (Victoria) Patricia Ramsay;
Christie's, London, 26 July 1974, lot 253 where purchased by Sir David Scott for £1,260
Notes: 'To-day I got from Paris a beautiful picture by Winterhalter which I had ordered. It is quite small, representing a "Siesta", three lovely Italian girls, with one of them asleep.' Queen Victoria's diary 22 December 1841 The entry in Queen Victoria's diary (cited above) conveys the excitement she felt when La Siesta arrived in England. She bought the painting from the German artist Winterhalter, then living in Paris, for £200 in 1841. The painting was hung in the Queen's dressing-room at Osborne House, where she would have seen it on frequent occasions during the summer visits that she and Prince Albert made to their home on the Isle of Wight. Described as 'trois femmes napolitaines' in the 1876 catalogue of the paintings at Osborne, it shows three beautiful young women shading themselves from the midday sun in the Mediterranean south. The girl at the centre holds her veil out to provide a shelter for the one who lies asleep at the front of the group, supporting her head on her arms. The girl on the right leans across so that her head is close to those of her two companions, and so that her figure completes the circular shape that the three of them form in the painting's foreground. Behind them, the trunks of two trees splay out to make an inverted triangle, while on the left side a distant view of the coast of the Campagna can be seen - which, as Carol Blackett-Ord has written (Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the Courts of Europe, op cit), was an almost inevitable leitmotiv of the Italian subjects that Winterhalter painted in his early career. The painting follows in line of succession of idylls, including Il Dolce far Niente of 1836 (private collection). This was the period in which Winterhalter first came to public notice by receiving commissons from the royal families of Leopold I, King of the Belgians, and from King Louis-Philippe of France. At this time he was gradually departing from the essentially Germanic and Biedermeier-influenced style of his first works to something more concerned with colour and light. Carol Blackett-Ord (op cit) has suggested that Winterhalter was conscious of the example of Delacroix, and has cited the orientalist subjects that Delacroix exhibited in Paris in the late 1830s as a significant influence upon him. This 'fancy picture' was the first work that Queen Victoria acquired by Winterhalter; and the indications are that he had only recently come to her notice. In the early years of her reign she had become increasingly dissatisfied with the British artists to whom commissions for royal portraits had gone, and was especially irritated by Edwin Landseer and Francis Grant, neither of whom seemed to understand what she required of them. In 1845 the Queen's lady-in-waiting, Lady Eleanor Stanley, described how on one occasion 'the Queen fired a terrible broadside at English artists both as regards their works and [...] their prices, and their charging her particularly high', and she was therefore delighted when in 1842 Winterhalter, whom she described as 'an excellent man full of zeal for his art, of goodwill, obligingness and real modesty', was presented to her. From this time forward, Winterhalter became the ex officio court portraitist to the British royal family, visiting England most summers and painting as many as a hundred works for Victoria, from formal state compositions such as The Reception of King Louis-Philippe at Windsor Castle (Musée National du Château de Versailles), of 1844, to what was called 'the secret picture', in which the Queen was seen with shoulders bare and hair undressed for the delectation of her husband, and which was commissioned in 1843 (Royal Collection). In 1873, at the time of Winterhalter's death, Queen Victoria remembered him when she wrote to one of her daughters: 'His works will one day rank with Van Dyck. He painted you all from your birth. There was not another portrait painter like him in the world'. (Christopher Newall, 'The Victorians', The British Portrait - 1660-1960, 1991, pp. 320-1). The Queen also continued to appreciate Winterhalter's 'fancy pictures', purchasing as a present for her husband in 1852 the multi-figured composition Florinda (Royal Collection), which in its luxuriance of imagery and decorative quality of colour and plein-air effect of light represents a logical successor to La Siesta. The present painting was the personal possession of the Queen, as opposed to part of the Royal Collection, and was therefore hers to give away. It certainly remained at Osborne until 1876 (Fig I), being described in A. I. Durrant's catalogue of the works in the house in that year, but was subsequently given to the Queen's younger son, Arthur, Duke of Connaught, either as a wedding present on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Luise Margarete of Prussia in 1879, or after the Queen's death in 1901 by Edward VII.
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