05 August, 2011

A Fashionable Likeness

Friedrich August von Kaulbach (2 June 1850,– 26 July 1920) was once one of the best known portrait painters in Germany. He was the grand-nephew of Wilhelm von Laulbach (an historical painter) and the son of Friedrich Kaulbach, Sr., both of whom were painters of renown as well. Our Friedrich began painting as a boy, and it wasn't long before he quickly established a reputation for himself.

In 1908 he painted a full length portrait of Edith Rockefeller McCormick. Von Kaulbach adored detail, and as you can see from the picture below, all of the fineries of Edith's gown and feather boa are noted with great skill. Typical of a von Kaulbach portrait, the first thing that attracts our attention is the pose; after that our eyes glide from one detail to another, and only finally do we stop at Edith's face.

The signed (click to enlarge) print that you see above is an image I received courtesy of my pal Bart (of SG Grand) only this morning. My first impression? I was of course thrilled, but in all honesty I kept staring at it and thinking, "Mon dieu, it looks like she's had a nose job!" Don't get me wrong, I adore the print; it is a typical pose for the time and the contrast of black and white lends interest to the detail of Edith's boa and gown. But the face is so uniquely different!

Bear in mind, this is quite typical of Friedrich von Kaulbach. Before his success as a portrait painter, he had already tested his versatility with caricatures, genre painting, costume pictures, landscapes and even designs for posters and advertisements. Thus, we see an image in which both the painter's technique and the sitter herself remind us of somebody else.

Regardless, I am (as always) fascinated, and I find myself having fun bouncing back and forth between the portrait shown about and this one from a decade later. It also falls me by that there is now a consistent question; what has become of these full length portraits of Edith? I am aware that certain family members have had to send them to auction over the years, but it is there that the trail runs cold. I would hope that they remain safe and enjoyed, but it certainly would be a pleasure to see one on exhibition sometime soon.

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