19th Century European Paintings

Art, Power and the Schickler-Pourtalès Dynasty

By Sotheby's

I n 1867, Baron Arthur de Schickler (1828-1919), a member of a powerful Berlin banking dynasty established in France, acquired the Château de Martinvast. This enlightened and enthusiastic collector richly decorated the property, purchasing tapestries, sculptures and works of art from the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1795, Johann Schickler married Ernestina Splitgerber, heiress of the Prussian bank of the same name founded in 1712.

Château de Martinvast, Cotentin.

Upon Johann’s death in 1801, his son, Jean Georges, inherited a great fortune. It was Jean Georges’ eldest son, Arthur, who bought Martinvast in 1867 and became Baron de Schickler in 1870. Arthur treasured the past and created the exquisite decor in his chateau, which has been preserved by his descendants to this day.

A number of items from this collection, demonstrate the family’s inimitable collecting legacy, including a pair of rediscovered 16th century Putti made by Hans Daucher that once adorned the balustrade of the chapel of the prestigious Fugger family. The young sculptor Daucher, born in 1486, created the high altar and the putti atop the green marble balustrade. Only thirty years after the laying of its last stone, the St. Anne’s Church in Augsburg and its chapels, including the Fugger, became Protestant. It is very possible that some of its decor, considered excessive, was removed, replaced and forgotten over time.

In 1817, the city began a major modernisation project as part of the tercentennial of the Reformation and Luther’s visit to Augsburg: the chapel was dismantled in 1818, the polychromatic marble balustrade and the sculptures were taken completely apart. This is surely when these two putti appeared on the market, enabling Baron Arthur de Schickler to purchase them.

Ten years later from the same period, dates a carved oak altarpiece narrating the episodes of the life of St. Lambert. This artifact was from Brabant. Several other tapestries of the same era, originating from Bruges, Brussels and the Netherlands, were stretched along the walls of Martinvast.

Martinvast is located 5 kilometers south of Cherbourg, at the tip of Cotentin. Its foundations date back to the Middle Ages. Destroyed during the 100 Years War, it was rebuilt at the end of the 16th century. However in 1861, it adapted its current Neo-Gothic style. The master builder was Arthur de Schickler (1828-1919). Curiously, he too was of German origin and belonged to a dynasty of financiers. His coat of arms bears a lion: “Of azure with armed argent, langued and crowned, holding between his paws an argent wheel.”

The Schickler Coat of Arms.

Several lifelike portraits represent family members that were notable figures in their day. Mélanie de Bussière, Countess Edmond de Pourtalès was painted by Franz-Xaver Winterhalter in 1857, the year of her wedding to Edmond de Pourtalès and the birth of her first child.

Winterhalter applied his virtuosity with a brush to the utmost in this magnificent canvas capturing the beauty of the graceful countess, who was barely 17 years old at the time and. The work was likely commissioned to celebrate one of those two key events.

Jean-Georges Schickler, founder of the French branch of the Schickler dynasty, is also the subject of Portrait of Jean-Georges Schickler, Chief Of The Basel Canton Squadron painted by Horace Vernet, and shown in the uniform of a squadron leader of the Canton of Basel. The very sombre ambiance created by the uniformly dark background framing the gleaming chestnut horse draws the eye to the rider, conferring both an air of mystery and, paradoxically, an unexpected gentleness. Horace Vernet associated with Baron de Schickler’s circle of friends, with whom he shared a love of hunting and horses.

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