At Bukowskis autumn auction last year, Nationalmuseum
acquired one of Johan Tobias Sergels few remaining clay models from a series of royal portraits, a bust that has been in private ownership until now. The portrait of the 21 year-old Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta has a freshness and immediacy, with clear traces of the sculptor at work.
When Johan Tobias Sergel was recalled to Sweden from Rome by King Gustav III, the sculptor hoped to be able to continue working on major themes from the ancient myths of gods and heroes. However, it perhaps came as no surprise to him that his future output in Sweden would take on a very different character. After all, the King had commissioned a portrait of himself just before Sergel left Rome on Midsummers Eve 1778. As soon as the sculptor arrived home, he had to quickly get started on his depiction of Gustav III, which was intended as a Christmas present for the Queen. This spurred the Kings brothers into action and they commissioned their portraits too, also as Christmas presents. And so the orders continued into the following year, with portraits of the Crown Prince, the Queen, the Princess and finally the Duchess all lined up. A dejected Sergel wrote to one of his friends: I hope there will now be an end to these busts, as long as I am not also required to model the Dowager Queen. Sergels intuition turned out to be right. The Dowager Queen also requested a portrait.
In some cases a sense of Sergels trials and tribulations with the royal portraits is preserved in the erroneously named face masks cut off from the original clay models. The museum purchased the portrait of the Dowager Queen a few years ago. Now this incredibly vibrant depiction of the 21 year-old Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta has joined the collection.
When, in 1815, the state bought Sergels possessions after his death, clearly no thought was given to what was left in the royal sculptors official studio on the premises of the Royal Academy. Instead, some of Sergels successors were left to browse through the remains of the leading sculptors materials. And so it was that John B÷rjesson gave away several of Sergels cut down clay models of the royal portraits to his friend and colleague Professor Carl Curman, who taught anatomy to Royal Academy students. This is why a number of the clay models sold in recent years can be traced back to the Curman family, including the portrait of Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta.
The acquisition was made possible using funds from the Axel Hirschs Foundation. Nationalmuseum does not have a budget for acquiring works to add to its art and design collections, instead relying on gifts and financial support from private foundations and funds.