A Sergel Terracotta for the Stockholm Museum

6/03/12 - Acquisition - Stockholm, Nationalmuseum - The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm recently acquired a terracotta by Johan Tobias Sergel : a study for the bust of Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp (1759-1818), for which the museum already owned the plaster cast and the marble. Auctioned by Bukowskis on 7 December 2011, the work went for 15,800 € and was purchased with the help of the Axel Hirsch Foundation.

Johan Tobias Sergel (1740-1814)
Portrait of Duchess Hedwige Elisabeth Charlotte
de Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp
, c.1780
Terracotta - H. 38 cm (with the base)
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum
Photo : Bodil Karlsson Nationalmuseum

Johan Tobias Sergel (1740-1814)
Portrait of Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta of Holstein-Gottorp, c.1780
Terracotta - H. 38 cm (with the base)
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum
Photo : Bukowskis

The daughter of Frederick August I, Duke of Oldenburg, Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta married the future Charles XIII of Sweden in 1774, the same king who was to later adopt Bernadotte (see article in French). His portrait is part of a series of royal likenesses which the sculptor produced after returning from Italy. He had been living in Rome since 1767 when Gustav III recalled him to work in his native country in 1778. Sergel returned with an admiration for Antiquity and the Italian Renaissance, as well as the influence of "the simple and noble taste for the antique" encouraged by Bouchardon and knowledge of French art in general, as he had also spent some time in Paris where he presented a sculpture of Othryades for his reception into the Royal Academy in 1779. The exhibition on L’Antiquité rêvée (see article) had in fact included one of his works.
After returning to Stockholm, Sergel hoped to continue developing themes from mythology and Antiquity but the king commissioned his portrait, then Gustav III’s brothers demanded theirs, followed by those of the queen, the crown prince, the duchess and, finally, even the dowager queen.

This recently acquired terracotta, showing only the model’s face, was in the sculptor’s studio along with other studies when his estate was purchased by the government after his death, in 1815. Sergel’s heirs recovered certain studies and, at that same moment, various clay likenesses fell into the hands of Carl Curman, a professor at the Royal Academy. This mask comes from that collection where other, exceptionally well preserved, pieces were also held.
In fact, the unfinished aspect of this study imparts it with a vivacity missing in the perfectly accomplished and smooth, plaster version, rather comparable to the queen’s portrait : both women present fashionable hairstyle and clothing, holding their head high with a wise look. On the other hand, this terracotta portrait on a pedestal, devoid of details reflecting a certain taste or period, becomes timeless, thus evoking an air of an antique statue.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 12 mars 2012

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