M.S. Rau Antiques has spent the past 103 years searching the world for objects that are both incredibly beautiful and one-of-a-kind. Every now and then, we come across a piece that has that “it factor” of also having a fascinating story to tell…a work of art that’s provenance sounds as if it were taken from an epic legend rather than the pages of history. This exceptional Portrait of Napoleon III is just such a historical masterpiece.
Attributed to renowned royal portraitist Franz Xavier Winterhalter, this portrait of Napoleon III was commissioned and given by the Emperor to the Marquess of Londonderry, Charles Vane, as a gift for his efforts in securing the release of Algerian Emir of Mascara, Abd-el-Kadr. The Emir was unjustly imprisoned by French forces under the rule of King Louis Phillipe after the Algerian ruler led a retaliation against North African invaders. Abd-el-Kadr surrendered in 1847, believing the French would allow him his freedom for defending his homelands. However, the Emir soon found himself behind bars.
The Marquess of Londonderry, who was an ally of the Emir, heard of this mistreatment and asked the King for assistance and was refused. Once Napoleon III took power, and having been a close family friend, the Marquess approached the new Emperor with the plight of Abd-el-Kadr, and together, successfully arranged the Algerian’s immediate release. Abd-el-Kadr would go on to become a great political ally and maintain close ties with Napoleon III and the Marquess. Napoleon III then commissioned two paintings, one of himself and one of Abd-el-Kadr, to give to the Marquess for his famed Londonderry House. These paintings are well documented and pictured in the house on Plate IX of LondonDerry House by H. Montgomery Hyde.
Napoleon III was a tremendous patron of the arts, and Winterhalter, in particular, was a favorite of both the Emperor and his wife, the Empress Eugénie. The artist completed numerous works for the royal couple. His most famed is currently housed in the collection of the Chateau de Compiegnes in Oise, France entitled Empress Eugénie, Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting. In terms of stylistic similarities and his masterful treatment of the subjects, the attribution of this portrait to Winterhalter is quite strong.
Beauty, rarity and history. It’s the magic recipe that every collector strives to acquire. To find a work that encompasses all three of these components, especially one of royal provenance, is to find a true treasure.