Gallery 19C Announces Sale of Painting by Johann Richard Seel to The Louvre Museum
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Gallery 19C Announces Sale of Painting by Johann Richard Seel to The Louvre Museum
Johann Richard Seel, Portrait of the Bloem Sisters, 1841.

WESTLAKE, TX.- Gallery 19C, a Texas based gallery specializing in 19th Century European Paintings, is honored to announce the Louvre Museum’s acquisition of German artist, Johann Richard Seel’s 1841 Portrait of the Bloem Sisters.

Commenting on the sale, Eric Weider, Founder and Polly Sartori, Director of Gallery 19C said: “We exhibited Seel’s extraordinary portrait of Betty Josefine Jacobine Bloem and Friderike Luisa Bloem at TEFAF Maastricht in March 2024, where it was featured as a centerpiece of our stand devoted to the Nazarenes and other early nineteenth century German paintings The double portrait was greatly admired by visitors to the fair, who were captivated by its originality. We are beyond thrilled that it has been acquired by The Louvre.”

Côme Fabre, Curator of Paintings at The Louvre added: “The painting is an outstanding example of the German fantasy in the art of portraiture, which is quite unknown in France. I noted this painting immediately catches the attention of the French audience, seduced by the magic and uncanny atmosphere of the effigy. It is all the more refreshing as we are used to The Louvre’s famous Chassériau sisters, painted during the same period.”

About the painting:

Johann Richard Seel (1819-1875), the artistically, musically, and poetically gifted son of a tin caster, received his first artistic education in Elberfeld before enrolling at the Düsseldorf Academy in 1837 where he studied under Carl Friedrich Sohn (1805-1867). Three years later, in late 1840 or perhaps early 1841, Seel left for Berlin and began to focus on drawing and, above all, caricature. It was in this arena that in 1842, he produced his most famous image, The Sleeping Michel, an allegorical commentary on contemporary politics. In contrast to the figure of Germania, the Michel does not stand for the nation but the people. As such he is meant to embody the German national character. Seel’s widely circulating caricature thematized the suffering inflicted upon German people by their neighboring states, which, as he saw it, acted unanimously hostile. Yet Seel was not letting the German rulers off the hook either, and the lock on Michel’s mouth denounces the widespread censorship in those 36 principalities that made up a Germany in need, as the caricature suggests, of unification. Michel’s role as a victim seems pitiful, but self-inflicted, and his dozing body calls out to the German population to “wake up.”

If Seel’s reputation rests today on his caricatures, his own time regarded him highly as a portraitist. He had already excelled in this genre at the Düsseldorf Academy, with the lush likeness of the sisters Betty and Friderike Bloem as a prime example. The canvas occupies a unique place in Seel’s oeuvre, not least for its elaborate setting, which, half church, half greenhouse, bursts with gigantic flowers. Seel sets up a subtle dualism between the two sitters, one being more active, self-assured, the other more contemplative and bashful. The symbolism of the surrounding flowers—the calla lily’s purity and the fertile rank growth of a passion fruit—expands this dualism into a juxtaposition of virtue and passion, a juxtaposition that prompted Friedrich Fries (1865-1954) in 1926 to suggest an immediate influence of Seel’s teacher, Carl Friedrich Sohn, and his 1834 canvas Two Leonores Given the age of the artist, who was merely 22, this was indeed, the first director of Elberfeld’s municipal museum gushed, an astonishing achievement.

The Bloems played an important role in the Rhinelands as a progressive voice among the region’s bourgeoisie. The sisters’ older brother, Anton (1814-1884), became an influential lawyer that, as a staunch leader of the Düsseldorf democrats and member of the Prussian National Assembly, garnered a reputation as an extraordinary defense attorney, not least of the revolutionaries of 1848. Seel shared the family’s liberal ideals and commitment to democratic politics, and for that reason bonded with the second oldest of the Bloem brothers, Julius (1822-1908), the later owner of Betty and Friderike’s double portrait. Like his older brother a gifted attorney, Julius also kept close ties with the local art scene and in 1851 was elected an honorary member of Düsseldorf’s free artists’ association, Der Künstlerverein Malkasten. It was here that the brothers met Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), who, inspired by the 1848-Revolution and the Rhine crossings of the local glee club, was working on his iconic Washington Crossing the Delaware. On the side, Leutze also produced a striking likeness of Anton. However, it was the youngest of the Bloem brothers, Gustav (1821-1905), who was most active as collector and amassed, while making a name for himself as a trailblazer in the world of ammunition manufacturing, a remarkable collection of the Düsseldorf School of Painting.

The sisters were no less interesting. While living in Bad Kreuznach between 1841 and 1847, the youngest, Betty, struck up a friendship with Jenny von Westphalen (1814-1881), the future wife of Karl Marx (1818-1883), and in 1862 went on to publish an account of a later visit with Jenny in London in the Leipziger Sonntagsblatt. After the marriage to a wealthy manufacturer, cut short after two years by her husband’s unexpected death in 1860, she took up writing under the pseudonym “B. Beluty” and proceeded to open a small business. Friderike, in turn, never married and instead took care of their mother, who was then living in Düsseldorf at Schwanenmarkt 16. Probably in the same year he painted the double portrait (1841), Seel also portrayed the oldest sister, Catharina Augustine “Käthe” (1816-1901). Much smaller and simpler than her sisters’ counterfeit, the canvas stands out for a disarming frankness.

The Bloems were a tight knit family, and this, together with the sheer aesthetic brilliance of the double portrait might explain why the various portraits remained in the family for over half a century. In 1925, Catharina’s likeness finally found a permanent home in Düsseldorf’s main painting gallery, but by then, the double portrait vanished. It had been last seen in 1907, when Julius, then a member of the Committee of the Permanent Art exhibition in the Casino, had lent it to Elberfeld’s municipal museum for an exhibition of local family portraits. The canvas attracted considerable attention, and the local newspaper dedicated a full-page to its reproduction. When the first monograph of Seel appeared in 2003, its author, Horst Heidermann (1929-2018), regretted deeply that his only knowledge of the portrait was from a black-and-white photograph. The painting’s reappearance on the art market in 2012—over 100 years after the canvas had been lost to obscurity—is thus truly a stroke of luck. It not only closes a gaping hole in Richard Seel’s oeuvre. It also delivers a powerful image of two women who, with their family, were dedicated in forging a liberal-democratic future for a united Germany. As such, the image is as rare as the women it depicts.

ii In 1902 the initiatives for a museum succeeded, and Dr. Friedrich Fries was appointed as the first director of the newly founded Städtische Museum Elberfeld; in 1961, it was renamed after its most important patron, the Von der Heydt family (nowadays located in Wuppertal).
iii Fries 1926, cited after Heidermann 2003, 130.
v Leipziger Sonntagsblatt, no. 37, 14. Sept. 1862 and no. 41, 12 Oct. 1862

This note was written by Cordula Grewe, author of The Nazarenes: Romantic Avant-Garde and the Art of the Concept

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