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ONE OF ONLY A DOZEN OR SO AUTHENTIC PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS OF THE COMPOSER.
ONE OF ONLY TWO AUTHENTIC PAINTINGS OF THE COMPOSER ENNUMERATED BY THE MOZART ICONOGRAPHER OTTO ERICH DEUTSCH REMAINING IN PRIVATE HANDS.
The appearance at auction of this portrait by an anonymous artist of the twenty-one-year-old Mozart, a present to his first serious dalliance, his eighteen-year-old cousin (the Bäsle) Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, represents an opportunity to acquire a Mozart object of stunning and virtually unparalleled significance.
The portrait is of touching simplicity and freshness. Wearing a red coat similar to that in the famous della Croce family portrait of 1780, his fine blond hair powdered and tied fashionably with a large black bow (one recalls a later letter from Vienna, that of 22 December 1781, relating how the fastidious composer's day would begin with a visit at six o'clock in the morning from his hairdresser), Mozart gazes directly at the viewer with intelligent, large blue eyes, a playful and open expression on his features. No other portrait of the composer perhaps conveys as this does what might be called Mozart's most defining characteristic, above and beyond his feeling for form and beauty: his genius for humour. The features here delineated are unmistakably those of the writer of some of the liveliest letters ever penned, and the future composer of Le nozze di Figaro.
The miniature captures the composer at a key moment in his life, both artistic and personal. Dating from the early part of the momentous Mannheim-Paris journey (September 1777 to January 1779), during which Mozart not only created such masterpieces as the E-minor Violin Sonata K. 304 and the A-minor Piano Sonata K. 310, but also had to endure the death of his mother in Paris, it is, in addition, the miraculously enduring token of a fleeting amorous attachment, the pictorial memento of the frivolous, not to say, notorious relationship with his cousin Maria Anna (1758-1841), the famous Bäsle of Mozart’s correspondence (Bäsle is the Swabian form of Base = female cousin).
A two-week stay in Augsburg from 11-26 October 1777 had re-acquainted Mozart with his cousin, the only daughter of Mozart’s uncle, the bookbinder Franz Aloys Mozart (1727-1791). With her Mozart struck up a playful, intimate friendship which found lasting expression in a celebrated series of nine letters, written between 31 October 1777 and 23 October 1781 - the famous Bäsle-Briefe, whose scatological humour and brilliant, scurrilous flights of verbal fantasy have variously amused, disgusted and perplexed posterity (one former owner of the letters, Mozart’s oldest son, Carl Thomas, wished to destroy them; another, Stefan Zweig, sent one in facsimile in 1931 to Freud for analysis). Whether they reveal that a sexual encounter took place or not between the two cousins in Augsburg has been much debated. At any rate, it was not until 1938, with the English translation of the Mozart family correspondence by Emily Anderson, that the general public was able to consider the epistolary evidence in unexpurgated form. For Mozart's own amusing annotated drawing of his cousin, contained in his letter of 10 May 1779 to Maria Anna (London, British Library), see the illustration on the next page.
The Bäsle correspondence provides the chronological background for the portrait: letters written by Mozart to his cousin from Mannheim, to where he had travelled from Augsburg, show that the composer had requested a portrait of the Bäsle, and she one of him. In a characteristic letter, of 5 November 1777, Mozart acknowledged her request:
…Nun aber etwas gescheüdes. mir ist sehr leid, daß der H: Praelat Salat schon wieder vom schlag getrofen worden ist fist. Doch hoffe ich, mit der hülfe Gottes spottes, wird es von keinen folgen seyn schwein. Sie schreiben mir stier, daß sie ihr verbrechen, welches sie mir vor meiner abreise von ogspurg voran haben, halten werden, und das bald kalt; Nu, daß wird mich gewiß reüen. sie schreiben noch ferners, ja, sie lassen sich heraus, sie geben sich blos, sie lassen sich verlauten, sie machen mir zu wissen, sie erklären sich, sie deüten mir an, sie benachrichtigen mir, sie machen mir kund, sie geben deütlich am tage, sie verlangen, sie begehren, sie wünschen, sie wollen, sie mögen, sie befehlen, daß ich ihnen auch mein Portrait schicken soll schroll. Oui, par ma la foi, ich scheiss dir auf d’nasen, so, rinds dir auf d’koi... [see illustration on page 101]
[Now for some sense. I am very sorry to hear that the Abbot rabbit has had another stroke so soon moon. But I trust that with God’s cod’s help it will have no serious consequences excrescences. You say lay that you will keep the compromise which you made me before I left Augsburg and that you will do so soon boon. Well that will certainly be a shock to me. You write further, you pour out, disclose, divulge, notify, declare, signify, inform, acquaint me with the fact, make it quite clear, request, demand, desire, wish, would like, order me to send lend my portrait. Eh bien, I shall certainly despatch scratch it to you. Oui, par moi foi. I shit on your nose and it will run down your chin...]
A further reference to the miniature in a letter of 13 November 1777 - Mozart asks the Bäsle whether she doubts that he will keep his word, i.e. his promise to send his portrait - is an evident indication that Mozart had not brought it with him from Salzburg or had had it made in Augsburg. Although there is no later confirmation in the surviving letters that the likeness was despatched, this is generally presumed to have occurred during Mozart’s stay in Mannheim in 1777. The portrait of herself which the Bäsle sent to Mozart, an anonymous pencil drawing showing the rude-featured Maria Anna in her Sunday best, is preserved today in the Mozarteum, Salzburg. Sadly for Maria Anna, this exchange of portraits did not betoken a closer, lasting attachment, Mozart falling deeply, and one-sidedly, in love with Aloysia Weber in Mannheim. Perhaps it was some consolation for the Bäsle that Mozart asked her to accompany him back to Salzburg from Munich at the end of his journey, possibly to soften the emotions that would inevitably be generated by the reunion with his freshly bereaved father. If Mozart had harboured the desire, however, to take their relationship further, Leopold will no doubt have crushed such intentions. Mozart’s great, and still unsurpassed, nineteenth-century biographer Otto Jahn, who viewed the portrait as part of Maria Anna’s estate in the decade after her death, reports that in later life she seems to have spoken little and then only reluctantly about her relationship with Mozart. What is certain is that she treasured all her days the portrait given to her by her cousin, bequeathing it ultimately to the postmaster Franz Joseph Streitel (1771-1854), who had married her illegitimate daughter Josepha (1784-1842). After the death of her mother, the Bäsle lived with her daughter and son-in-law, from 1814 in the Alte Postei in Bayreuth, where she died at the age of 82 in 1841 - having outlived by decades most of those whose had played a role in her life and in her famous cousin's. THE PORTRAIT HAS REMAINED IN THE FAMILY EVER SINCE.
IT IS PROBABLE THAT THE QUALITIES OF THE MINIATURE ARE NOT AS WIDELY KNOWN OR APPRECIATED AS THEY SHOULD BE, ON ACCOUNT OF THE FACT THAT THE PORTRAIT HAS NEVER BEEN REPRODUCED IN COLOUR IN THE STANDARD MOZART LITERATURE: certainly the poor-quality black-and-white illustrations in the classic works of Mozart iconography, the publications by Robert Bory (1948) and Maximilian Zenger and Otto Erich Deutsch (1961), convey little of the warmth and depth of the original, whose features come as revelation when viewed in the flesh. The detail in the face, for example, when viewed at close quarters, is truly remarkable: only then can one see that the features are formed by the tiniest dots of gouache, applied with the utmost precision and delicacy, the ivory base itself bestowing a marvellous luminosity on the image - this was the great bonus of painting on ivory, a medium in vogue from the beginning of the eighteenth century.
It may be true that Mozart never had the good fortune to be painted by a really first-rate artist, unlike J. C. Bach or Haydn for instance (one recalls the great portraits by Gainsborough and Hoppner, respectively), but the unknown artist here has nevertheless caught the essence of the composer. Otto Jahn tellingly observed that when one compares this depiction of Mozart with the portrait of Leopold which prefaces his famous Violinschule (1756) one can readily understand why old acquaintances from Leopold's youth whom Wolfgang met in Munich in 1777 remarked on the similarity between father and son, one that is not to be found in the later portraits. Later in life Mozart is known to have disliked being represented en face, and it is notable that the later images that have come down to us are profile likenesses, for instance the drawing in silverpoint by Doris Stock (1789) and the various medallion images by or after Leonard Posch, dated to the late 1780s (the famous oil painting by Aloysia Weber's husband, Joseph Lange, from Mozart's Vienna years, is essentially also a profile portrait).
The number of possibly authentic, as well as unauthenticated or spurious, portraits of Mozart is legion. Although arguments can be adduced for other well-known portraits, this is the canon according to Deutsch:
1. The Boy Mozart, oil painting by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni, 1763 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg).
2. Leopold Mozart with Wolfgang and Maria Anna ("Nannerl"), watercolour by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle, November 1763 (Musée Condé, Chantilly); three other variants (Musée Carnavalet, Paris; British Museum, London; Castle Howard, York); and an engraving by Delafosse after Carmontelle's picture, 1764 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; other copies also known).
3. Tea at Prince Louis-François de Conti's, in the 'Temple', oil painting by Michel Barthélemy Ollivier, 1766 (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
4. Wolfgang at Verona, oil painting attributed to Gianbettino Cignaroli, 1770 (Private Collection).
5. Miniature on ivory, attributed to Martin Knoller, 1773 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg).
6. The present anonymous portrait, 1777.
7. Mozart as Knight of the Golden Spur, anonymous oil painting, 1777 (Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica di Bologna).
8. The Family Portrait, oil painting attributed to Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780-1781 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg).
9. Oil painting by Joseph Lange, 1789 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg).
10. Silhouette, engraved by Hieronymous Löschenkohl, 1785, for his Musik- und Theater-Almanach of 1786 (one copy in the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien).
11. Medallion in red wax, by Leonard Posch, 1788 (formerly Mozart-Museum, Salzburg: missing since 1945); Deutsch list three other variants.
12. Silverpoint drawing by Doris Stock, 1789 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg).
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