Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Studio
- Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Studio
- Portrait of Charlotte of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold I
- inscribed with the number 71 lower left; a red inventory stamp on the reverse of the canvas with intertwined initials LP surmounted by a crown (the cipher of Louis-Philippe, King of the French) and the number 6219; and inscribed Marie-Charlotte-Amélie-Auguste-Victoire-Clémentine-/Léopoldine, Princesse de Belgique,/Fille de Léopolde, Roi des Belges, et de Louise-Marie-/Thérèse-Charlotte-Isabelle d'Orléans,/Née le 7 Juin 1840./Par Mr. F. Winterhalter.
- oil on canvas
By descent in the Orléans family;
By family descent to Prince and Princess Godehard von Hohenzollern, at Burg Namedy;
Anonymous sale, Düsseldorf, Hargesheimer & Günther, 11 September 2010, lot 377.
This enchanting portrait of the young Princess Charlotte of Belgium was commissioned by her grandfather, King Louis-Philippe of France, in 1845 for the Château d’Eu, his summer residence on the coast of Normandy. The reverse of the canvas bears the King’s cipher and the number 6219 (fig. 1), corresponding to the original order as listed in the Rapport of 1845 (see Literature). It is a three-quarter length version of the full-length portrait of Charlotte commissioned by her father, Leopold I of Belgium, signed by Winterhalter and dated 1844, in Laeken Palace, Brussels.4 Family portraits commissioned by the Belgian and French kings were often replicated by Winterhalter and his studio for different branches of the interrelated families. Charlotte was four years old when Winterhalter painted the original commission for Leopold. She is depicted informally, wearing a black hooded cloak and white dress, as if she is about to go out for a walk. Indeed, the full-length Laeken Palace portrait shows her standing on an open terrace with a rose bush and distant landscape seen at the left side. Charlotte was the only daughter and youngest child of Leopold and Louise-Marie d’Orléans. She matured into a great beauty and, at age seventeen, married her second cousin Ferdinand Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The early part of their marriage was happily spent in Italy where Maximilian was appointed Viceroy of Lombardy and Venice. However, events for which they were wholly unprepared would soon overtake their lives.
In the early 1860s, Napoleon III of France decided to conquer Mexico creating a satellite empire which would serve the interests of France in the New World. In 1863, he succeeded in overthrowing the government of President Benito Juarez. Maximilian was selected to be the new Emperor and he and Charlotte, who became known as Empress Carlota, arrived in Mexico City and were crowned in the Catedral Metropolitana in 1864. Charlotte determined to take her imperial duties seriously, touring remote areas and devoting herself to the needs of the local population. However, not long after their coronation Napoleon III began to withdraw troops from Mexico, signaling his diminishing support for the scheme. The United States had refused to recognize the legitimacy of Maximilian’s rule and sympathized with Juarez, who still had strong support among factions in the country. Charlotte was determined to intervene on behalf of her husband and set off for Europe in July of 1866 to request assistance from Napoleon III. When this was refused, she went to Rome to entreat Pope Pius IX without success. By this time, Charlotte was in a deep depression and showing signs of severe mental instability. She would never return to Mexico. Despite the dire situation, Maximilian had refused to abdicate and in 1867 the last of the French forces was defeated. He was taken prisoner and sentenced to death by a military court. Though there were international pleas for amnesty, Juarez refused to commute the sentence and Maximilian was executed on 19 June, 1867. Charlotte never fully recovered her mental health and lived largely in seclusion for the remaining 60 years of her life.
We are grateful to Eugene Barilo von Reisberg for his assistance in cataloguing this painting.
1 R. Ormond, in Franz Zaver Winterhalter and the Courts of Europe 1830-70, London 1987, p. 22.
2. In the collection of the Musée du Versailles.
3. R. Ormond, op. cit., p. 51.
4. Oil on canvas, 140 by 98 cm.