Recently a very large painting (276 x 217 cm) was displayed on a wall in one of the ground floor rooms of the Rundāle Palace Museum. Many will recognise portrayed in it Charles I of England, painted by Anthony van Dyck. The portrait on show at the Louvre Museum is one of the most famous depictions of this tragic monarch and portrays him on a hunt assuming a proud posture with romantic coastal scenery in the background. The portrait was created circa 1635 but it is not known how it ended up in France. In 1793, it was already in the collection of Louvre Museum, acquired from the estate of Louis XVI of France who in turn bought it from Madame du Barry; the last two owners of the portrait ended their life on the guillotine as did the king portrayed in it.
However, the portrait of Charles I has not actually left the Louvre – Rundāle Palace holds a copy of this portrait and it has had a rather unusual fate. A few years ago, when this damaged painting, rolled up, was offered to the Museum, its history was unknown. Its author had not signed the painting. Instead, a photograph has remained – in the hall of Bukaiši Manor House at the beginning of the 20th century, on one of its walls hangs a large portrait of Charles I, which matches van Dyck’s prototype. Bukaiši Manor House was built from 1856 to 1860 by architect Adolf Winberg for Prince Alexander Lieven. Prince Lieven had spent some of his life abroad, he owned a villa in Neapoli. Following the fashion of his eclectic period, which demanded representation and splendour, the Prince set out to create a truly European, modern environment at Bukaiši Manor House. The pompous portrait of the king bestowed it with a particularly solemn atmosphere.
It has been established that Prince Lieven commissioned the portrait in 1873 in Paris from a young painter Ernst von Liphardt and it was a turning point in the artist’s life and career. Ernst Friedrich was born in 1847 into the family of Karl Eduard von Liphardt, the proprietor of Raadi (German: Ratshof) Manor. His father was an art expert and collector. From 1862, father and son resided in Florence where Ernst studied painting from Munich artist Franz Lenbach who in Florence had been copying work by Veronese, van Dyck and Tintoretto for a considerable time. In 1873, while continuing to study painting in Paris, Ernst married his French painting model Luisa Juan and converted to Catholicism. The furious father, a stern Lutheran, disinherited his son. Although later they partially reconciled, when Karl Eduard von Liphardt died in 1891, instead of Ernst the manor was inherited by Reinhold Karl von Liphardt, a relative from adjoining lineage.
The copy of Charles I portrait brought fame to the young artist as well as painting commissions that were crucial to him in those financially difficult times. He became a van Dyck of his time – a well-regarded author of representation portraits, mainly among the court circles in Russia, where he resided since 1886 and acquired not only fame but also money. When the portrait of the deceased Emperor Alexander III in the House of the Livonian Noble Corporation needed to be replaced with a portrait of the new monarch Nicholas II of Russia, von Liphardt created a magnificent representation portrait in van Dyck’s style, in which the Emperor stands by a splendid copy of a Louis XV writing desk wearing a hussar uniform – altogether taller and leaner, like van Dyck’s depiction of Charles I of England. Perhaps, while working on this portrait, von Liphardt reminisced about a distant time when he regarded van Dyck’s masterpiece in the Louvre, endeavouring to transfer as much detail as possible onto his own canvas? During his career as a representation portrait painter Liphardt repeated this portrait of Nicholas II several times, whilst also painting the Emperor in other costumes and on different backgrounds but always very realistically and convincingly.
Once the House of the Livonian Noble Corporation became the seat of Latvian Saeima and following the fire in 1921, the portrait of Nicholas II together with other portraits of Russian monarchs began to journey from one storeroom to another until by the end of the 1960s all were stored at the Riga Film Studio’s properties warehouse. Unfortunately, the Rundāle Palace Museum was unsuccessful in its attempt to acquire these paintings. After the restoration of independence, when the Museum once again tried to acquire them, the portraits had vanished from the Film Studio. However, in the 1990s in Stockholm the portrait of Nicholas II in a hussar uniform standing by a copy of Louis XV writing desk, painted by E. von Liphardt, was selling for a very high price. Perhaps it was the portrait from the House of the Livonian Noble Corporation, or maybe not…
Like his father, Ernst von Liphardt was an art expert and in 1906 became the main custodian of the painting collection at the Tsarist Hermitage. Thanks to his energy, the Hermitage acquired Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Benois Madonna’.
In 1918, Ernst von Liphardt cherished a grandiose project – in mid-summer he began to negotiate with Count Andrey Shuvalov about acquiring Rundāle Manor. Without a doubt, this plan relayed his desire to exhibit his art collection on a magnificent scale. Had he succeeded, a new large art museum would have been established in Latvia; alas it was not to be. The November Revolution in Germany also abolished the newly created political system on Latvian territory of the restored Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, subject to the German Empire. The subsequent political developments led to the agrarian reform in Latvia, as well as Estonia, and Ernst von Liphardt lost Raadi Manor and his collections as a result.
After the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Ernst von Liphardt remained as the custodian of the Hermitage painting collection and continued to work on a catalogue of Italian painting collection up until 1929 when he was made redundant. However, when his daughter was fatally shot in Omsk in 1921 for hiding a White Guard officer, von Liphardt was evicted from his home. Before his death, he still managed to write a play about Italian painter Bernardino Luini, in 1932 von Liphardt died in Leningrad. He was destined to begin his life in the splendour of aristocratic, monarchic Europe only to die in the oppression and destitution of Soviet Russia.
Returning to the portrait of Charles I – it was necessary to establish that the painting bought by the Museum was the same Prince Lieven had commissioned from Liphardt in 1873. From one hand, it seemed unlikely because Bukaiši Manor was burnt down in 1905, besides the painting was not listed among items Prince Lieven had deposited to the Courland Province Museum in Jelgava and which thus successfully survived revolution and wars to eventually take the place of honour at the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE. Also among these objects was the sculpture Bacchante created in 1847 by Luigi Bienaimé that in the hall of Bukaiši Manor was placed next to the portrait of Charles I.
The portrait was very damaged – folded and pierced, with a cracked paint layer, parts of it crumbled off. Restoration took place from October 2016 until April 2018, it was carried out by Old Master Zita Sokolova and students from the Art Academy of Latvia.
The dexterous, uninhibited painting style corresponds to the hand of Ernst von Liphardt, which later also became known for large, virtuously executed cycles of decorative paintings. Technical execution characteristic to his time should also be noted – such as bitumen paint, abundantly applied linseed oil that causes paint to contract potently and converge in dispersed islands.
However, at our disposal are not only logical and stylistic considerations but also material evidence. The painting was executed on a specially primed large-format canvas with the name of the manufacturer stencilled on its reverse. It is the Colin Company in Paris, established in 1829 and located at Place du Louvre 19 next to the Museum. The shape of stencilled letters and their layout is characteristic to the 3rd quarter of the 19th century. It is not possible that in Paris circa 1870 two artists simultaneously copied the portrait of Charles I for two different customers in Latvia and that there was another representation portrait devotee matching the proprietor of Bukaiši Manor Prince Alexander Lieven. Therefore, we must assume before us is the work of Ernst von Liphardt created in 1873. We can only imagine the way it was rescued from the burning Bukaiši Manor when the master house was torched. Its poor condition, as well as the pronounced converging of paint, could indicate that heat, as well as exceeding amounts of linseed oil, were responsible. Most likely in 1905 the painting was removed from a burning building. That would account for it ending up in private hands and subsequent re-appearance in Zemgale.
Author: Imants Lancmanis Dr.h.c.art.