Portrait by Delacroix Highlights Doyle’s Old Master Auction on October 31

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • October 22, 2018

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Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Portrait of Charles-Etienne-Raymond Victor de Verninac (1803-1834), the Artist's Nephew. Est. $300,000-400,000.
Doyle
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Portrait of Charles-Etienne-Raymond Victor de Verninac (1803-1834), the Artist's Nephew. Est. $300,000-400,000.
Doyle
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Portrait of Charles-Etienne-Raymond Victor de Verninac (1803-1834), the Artist's Nephew. Est. $300,000-400,000.
Doyle

Doyle will hold an auction of Old Master Paintings on Wednesday, October 31 at 10am in New York. The sale offers landscapes, still lifes, portraits and religious subjects by European artists from the Renaissance through the early 19th century.

Highlighting the sale is an early portrait by the great Romantic master Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) whose work is currently the subject of an important exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The portrait depicts the artist's nephew, Charles de Verninac (est. $300,000-400,000).

Charles-Etienne-Raymond-Victor de Verninac was the only child of Delacroix's sister, Henriette de Verninac, well known to connoisseurs of French art from her portrait by Jacques Louis David in the Musée du Louvre. Only five years younger than Delacroix, Charles grew up with the artist acting as his informal guardian and honorary older brother. He received a fine education in Paris and graduated from law school there before entering the French diplomatic service in 1829, a career choice that sent him on various international missions.

In 1834, as he was returning to France from a posting in Chile, he contracted yellow fever while crossing the isthmus of Panama. When his ship arrived in New York, the city was in the midst of a particularly virulent epidemic of cholera, during which the municipal graveyards were literally overflowing. Amid great fear of further contagion, Verninac’s ship was held in quarantine in the port, and it was there that the young man died on May 22, 1834. This tragic event was a grievous blow to Delacroix, who, after his sister Henriette’s death in 1827, had no other close family. Until his own death in 1863, the artist kept three portraits of his beloved nephew, one of which hung at the head of his bed.

Charles de Verninac was buried in New York harbor; however, a plaster death mask, now in the collection of the Delacroix Museum in Paris, was made for his family. His personal effects, including this portrait, were apparently sold to pay for his last expenses. Thus, the painting is very likely the first painting by Delacroix to come to North America. It has been in American collections ever since.

The painting is an intimate portrayal of the young diplomat, made during the winter of 1825-1826. It is unsigned, as were all of Delacroix’s family portraits; and it was such a significant testament to his uncle’s affection that Charles took it with him on his diplomatic travels; as noted above, it was among his possessions when he died. Here Charles is shown in formal dress, holding a top hat in his left hand and a pair of English chamois driving gloves in his right. With his curls brushed forward in a Byronic manner, he appears about to speak; yet he carries himself with the dignity and refinement of a French diplomat. The rock grouping on which he rests his right hand appears to be a formation located on a country property at Augerville, fifty miles south of Paris, which belonged to Delacroix’s cousin and which he and his nephew often visited as children. This same arrangement can be seen in an oil sketch by the artist made in 1854 and now in the Thaw Collection (owned jointly by the Morgan Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art), Landscape with Rocks, Augerville.

The paint-handling in this sophisticated work is greatly influenced by English brushwork and glazing techniques, absorbed, no doubt, during Delacroix’s trip to England in 1825 – only months before the portrait was painted. Sometimes the artist’s touch here approaches the look of watercolor – as in the tree at right – an effect created by the use of gum Arabic, a common binder for watercolor. The work remains on its original stretcher made by Haro, from whose shop in Paris Delacroix bought most of his art supplies. The frame, too, is of the period and may be original.

At this early stage in Delacroix's career we can already define him as a Romantic painter. He has posed his nephew, not in an interior with a globe, as an 18th century artist might have done, but in a brooding landscape with a darkening sky and back-lit clouds behind him, suggesting poetic aspirations and future voyages. The virtuosity of the brushwork, although somewhat restrained by the conventions of formal portraiture, is nevertheless full of shimmering movement and subtle highlights, which make this piece truly a “speaking likeness” in the tradition of Europe’s greatest portraitists.

Doyle's Senior Fine Art Specialist Specialist Elaine Stainton profiles the portrait by Eugène Delacroix in a fascinating video.  View the Video

Other featured artists in the auction include Jean-Jacques Lagrenée, John Nost Sartorius, Thomas van Apshoven and John Arnold Alfred Wheeler, in addition to works from the Circle of Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Northern European School.

The public is invited to the exhibition on view from Saturday, October 27 through Tuesday, October 29. Doyle is located at 175 East 87th Street in Manhattan. The catalogue is available online at Doyle.com


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