The sale of this bust presents a unique opportunity to acquire an autograph work by Germany's foremost neoclassical sculptor which has been in the collection of its royal sitter's descendants until the present day. Carved at the height of Rauch's career, it is at once a powerful ruler image and a testament to the generous patronage bestowed by King Friedrich Wilhelm III upon the celebrated sculptor.
A royal portrait
During the course of his prestigious career, Christian Daniel Rauch had several opportunities to portray Friedrich Wilhelm III, in whose favour he had stood since the King recognised the young sculptor's talents and awarded him a stipend to Italy. The first recorded of these portraits is a herm bust, modelled from life in 1811, which provided the prototype for the bust now offered (see von Simson, op. cit., no. 32).
The present bust, executed in 1826, was modelled in June of the same year as part of a commission by the Duke of Wellington. First cast in plaster, marble editions were made in 1826 and 1838. One of the 1838 versions was sold as lot 1562 in the Royal House of Hanover sale at Sotheby's Munich in 2005, while the majority of the remaining examples are still located in noble collections. Rauch's evident admiration for his royal supporter resonates in the stylistic choices of his portrait. The bust represents the 56-year-old King with idealised features and a determined gaze, bare-chested, with a generous truncation giving the impression of physical prowess and monumentality. Later reworked with the addition of a mantle covering the chest, the model would become the King's definitive image and was reproduced in a variety of materials. As one of the earliest marble versions of this iconic model, the present bust is a highly important work in Rauch's extensive oeuvre. Until recently it graced the Library at Burg Hohenzollern, the ancestral seat of the Prussian monarchs.
Christian Daniel Rauch
A contemporary of the famous neoclassical sculptors Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, Christian Daniel Rauch began his artistic education at the tender age of fourteen, when he was apprenticed to court sculptor Friedrich Valentin (1752-1819). However, after the untimely death of his brother, he was forced to accept a position as a valet at the Prussian court of Friedrich Wilhelm II to sustain his widowed mother. Although it pained him to give up his artistic profession, the move turned out to be fortuitous: the King died in the same year, and his successor, Friedrich Wilhelm III, became the most avid supporter of his artistic talents. In 1803, he was granted a pension, in order to finish his education and completely dedicate himself to sculpture. Rauch had the opportunity to go to Italy on a Grand Tour in 1805, which he described in a letter to his mother as the 'most beautiful trip in the world' (von Simson, op. cit., p. 15). Due to the contacts he made on this tour, he spent the next decade travelling back and forth to Italy, where he befriended Canova and Thorvaldsen, and developed his distinctive neoclassical style. His first official large assignment did not come until 1811, when he was commissioned to make the funerary monument of Queen Luise of Prussia. Returning permanently to Berlin after 1818, his reputation as an excellent portraitist now firmly established, he became one of the most desired sculptors for busts and statues of military officials, aristocrats and monarchs, and received commissions from numerous European royal families.
Friedrich Wilhelm III
The eldest son of Friedrich Wilhelm II, Friedrich Wilhelm III acceded to the throne after his father’s death in 1797. He had married Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1793, and their marriage is recorded to have been a happy one. He mourned her early death in 1810 for years. Though loved by his subjects, Friedrich Wilhelm III faced some difficulty as a ruler. Reigning during the turbulent times of the Napoleonic wars, he changed alliance between the French and the Russian fronts, fighting against the Russians in the 1812 campaign, but then in aid of Czar Alexander I in the Wars of Liberation from 1813-1815.
J. von Simson, Christian Daniel Rauch, Berlin, 1996, pp. 12-40, and pp. 233-234, no. 145.1-2