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Antoni Jan Blank (1785-1844)-Attrib. "Napoleon by Vienna (May-July 1809)", important oil painting!!
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This painting is a very rare and important document from the period of the First Empire.
The depicted nightly scene takes place in the period between the 2nd capture of Vienna by Napoleonic Grande Armée (10th May 1809) and the battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809).
We see the Emperor of the French (as it was common to depict chief-commanders in battle paintings of that time) positioned at high altitude. He wears one of his most favorite uniforms, i.e. that of an officer of 1st Grenadiers-á-Pied Regiment of Garde Imperiale with epaulettes of a colonel of the Guards. He bears two insignies of the same award: Breast Star and Grand-Eagle Cross of the Legion d'Honneur (of the so-called "4th model"; the latter was introduced in 1808 and was different from preceding "3rd model" because of newly-acquired ball tips on the arms of its cross - see image nr.25).
Napoleon is depicted standing by remains of an old wall (a ruin covered by grass sprouting through its stones). Deposited atop it is a heap of documents pressed down by an inkstand with two quill pens. Among the documents laid on the left we see an envelope that was recently torn open and a letter (dispatch?); among the documents on the right - a heap of manuscripts. The upper manuscript (emperor's proclamation addressed to his army?) bears at lower edge the autograph "Napoleon". This stack of papers is laid on top of a geographic map of Europe, which is spread over remains of an old wall. This map of Europe, namely of North Europe (see numerous border lines of different colors, i.e. borders of various kingdoms, duchies, principalities, counties, etc. - a clear indication that we are looking here at a map of Germany and Austria bordering it).
Standing behind the ruin, on emperor's right, halfway concealed from the view, is Napoleon's mamluk Roustam Raza (see our images nr.26-27 with his known portraits). He is depicted bridling his master's horse.
The long city wall in the horizon before the mountain ridge is no other than that of Vienna (we see cupola of Belvedere and St.Stephen's Cathedral).
But who was the author of this, surely created in 1809 ("while the tracks were still hot") painting?
We have recently got a hold of July 2011 issue of the French military-historical magazine "Soldats Napoleoniens", namely its article by Moscow historians Dimitri Gorchkoff and Julie Belova titled "Le portrait inconnu de general de division Morand" (see our images nr. 30-36). The article sheds some new light at (thus far unknown to general public) oil painting with equestrian portrait of Napoleonic division general Charles-Antoine Morand (1771-1835; see our image nr.28), which is housed in the Museum of Horse Breeding of the Moscow Tymiryazev Academy of Agriculture. As it is known from sitter's biography, his division was integrated into the Grand Armée, which in May 1809 conquered and occupied Vienna and remained on Austrian soil up until the August of the same year.
It is very likely that already two years prior - i.e. in 1807 - Charles-Antoine Morand (then the commandant of the French garrison in Warsaw) could have made acquaintance with then most important portraitist of Warsaw high society (and in late 18th century court miniaturist of King Stanislaus August Poniatowski), Jozef Kosinski (1753-1821). Besides tending to his Polish clients Kosinski produced surely portraits of then landlords of Warsaw - French officers. In fact, he excelled at it so much that in the same (1807) year he was invited to Naples to paint a shoulder-length oil (not miniature!) portrait of the brother of Napoleon I and then the King of Naples, Joseph Bonaparte (see Thieme-Becker for further reference). In light of this trend, it seems to have been very likely that French commandant of Warsaw Morand also ordered his portrait from the same artist and, consequently, paid a number of visits to the latter's atelier. In this atelier, with just as much likelihood, Morand could have met young Polish artist, who was Kosinski's young assistant and best pupil, and who portrayed Morand two years later in Vienna.
We refer here to the author of the aforementioned (clearly signed and dated "Ant.Blank pin-t /1809") portrait from the Moscow Museum of Horse Breeding, Polish artist Antoni Jan Blank (1785-1844). As we will see below in his biography, in 1809 he moved from Warsaw (after completion of 9 years of studies under Kosinski) to Dresden in order to learn from famous neoclassical painter Josef Grassi - then a Professor at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts.
None of the biographical sources concerning Antoni Jan Blank mentions his possible passage through Vienna in 1809 on the way to Dresden. Nevertheless, there remain three letters of general Morand, written by him to his wife in Paris (today they belong to one of the general's descendants living in Paris, Count Morand; the latter kindly released their photocopies to one of the authors of aforementioned article in "Soldats Napoleoniens", Dr. Dimitri Gorchkoff, who, in his turn, shared them with us), which throw additional light on the site and date of this portrait's execution.
In his first letter, which is indistinctly dated and marked as painted in "Vienne" (this letter was surely written before (!) July 5th 1809 (Battle of Wagram, in which the general and his division took part)), Morand - besides the usual endearing cooing of a soldier missing his young wife - writes the following:
"…Today I have received several paintings. They will considerably solace me in my solitude, especially your portrait. Soon I will send them to you…".
Hence, according to this information, the general, who received (from the artist?) several paintings, one of them with portrait of his wife (painted after her miniature portrait?), after admiring them to his heart's content, was soon going to send them to Paris.
In the second letter, dated 15th of July 1809 and marked as painted in Durnholz (the general refers to Dürnholz (now Drnholec, Czech Republic); after the Battle of Znaim (10-11 July 1809) his division was stationed close to this Moravian (Moravia was then Austrian territory) town for a few weeks), among other things, he writes:
"… in 3-4 months from now you will receive my portrait…".
And, finally, in the third letter, dated 27th of July 1809 and similarly marked as painted in "Durnholz", he writes:
"…I am sending you several (sic!) paintings, one of which is my portrait that resembles me a great deal… Although the moustache in this portrait makes me appear especially serious, underneath it (moustache - B.W.) you will effortlessly find the same smile that once charmed you so much…".
Now, why do we choose to spend such amount of time on this (1809) portrait of general Morand by young Polish artist Antoni Jan Blank? The explanation is rather simple: we are certain that "our" portrait of Emperor Napoleon I, painted in Vienna in 1809, is also a creation of then 24-year-old Antoni Jan Blank .
Moreover, we are sure that this portrait of Napoleon was executed upon general Morand's personal commission (consider those "several paintings" mentioned in his letter of July 27th). It is very likely that, besides the "moustache" portrait of Morand (painting in the Moscow Museum of Horse Breeding), the portrait of his chief-commander and Emperor of France was also among those paintings.
The contemporary Count Morand (see above) is also in possession of another version of discussed here general's equestrian portrait. Somewhat more qualitative and slightly differing in details, this portrait was surely painted a few years after the first one (see our image nr.29).
The emergence of this second (more qualitative) replica could be explained as follows:
1.) The authors of the article in "Soldats Napoleoniens" do not exclude the possibility of Morand (in need of his portrait that he promised to his wife) wrote to portraitist Jozef Kosinski, whom he knew from the time of his Warsaw mission. Kosinki, instead, recommended him his pupil (whom the general similarly knew from Warsaw) Blank, who was then furthermore preparing to leave Warsaw (his final destination - Dresden).
In any case, in May-July of 1809, in Vienna, general Morand sat for this portrait before young debutant Blank, who - as we now know - temporarily stopped in Vienna on his way to Dresden (making quite a detour).
2.) Both of these portraits painted in May-July 1809 in Vienna (that of Morand and Napoleon I), as well as the other from "several" paintings mentioned in general's letter, were never received by his wife in France, for they were lost in transit. After the WWII, one of them (the portrait of Morand) ended up (from where? certainly not from France where, after liberating it from Germans, allied American and British troops (but not Russian) were stationed, but rather from Poland, Czechoslovakia or Germany) in Russia as a war trophy and later found itself in the Museum of Horse Breeding.
The second ("our" Napoleon) resurfaced two hundred years later at Parisian gallery "Arts et Autographes" (where we acquired it in October 2010). Its previous whereabouts remain unknown.
After Napoleon's abdication in 1814 General Morand took an oath of allegiance to Louis XVIII and was treated very kindly by him. Yet, in spring of 1815, he broke his oath and rejoined Napoleon upon his comeback to France. He took part in the Battle of Waterloo and, after being defeated, fled France, where he was sentenced to death in absentia. He spent the following four years - 1815 to 1819 (in this year he was acquitted and free to return to his home country) - in… Poland or, to be exact, in the family estate of his wife Emilienne, nee Parysow (she was a daughter of Polish count Parysow, colonel in Saxonian service).
While in Poland, Morand again encountered Blank (by then the artist had already completed his studies with Grassi and returned home), who compensated him for his former loss by painting (using keeped by him studies) a second (naturally more qualitative, for he mastered his skills with Grassi) replica of the 1809 portrait (image nr.29).
But allow us to return to "our" portrait of Napoleon.
A comparison of both portraits - "ours" and the "Moscow" portrait of Morand - presents a doubtless similarity not only in their execution manner, but also in their composition structure, treatment of details, etc. Both are works of an aspiring artist: along with professionally executed details, one still finds aspects painted by a not-so-steady hand. To be brief: both of these paintings are typical works of a would-be (!) artist, which is a most accurate description of Blank at that point of his artistic career (i.e. before he began studying with Grassi) .
Antoni Jan Blank (1785 Olsztyn - 1844 Warsaw) came in 1800, at the age of 16, to Warsaw and joined the studio of court portraitist Jozef Kosinski. In 1809 (sic!), under the auspices of Saxonian minister Bose, he was admitted to the class of Professor Josef Grassi at the Dresden Academy. In 1815 he returned to Warsaw, where in 1819 was offered professorship at the Fine Arts Department of the University of Warsaw. Together with Antoni Brodowski and Zygmunt Vogel he was in charge of this faculty until the university shut its doors following the November Revolt of 1830. From 1832 onwards he hosted unofficial painting school in his atelier.
Blank's biographer, Janusz Derwojed, frequently stresses the facts that Blank mainly painted on commission, and that he chiefly produced portraits of important persons (initially as Kosinski's student, i.e. before 1809, and later in Dresden) who were members of Polish aristocracy affiliated with the Saxonian Court. After returning to Warsaw Blank also painted portraits of Tsar Alexander I, Tsar Nikolai I, etc.
Although well represented in various Polish museums, works of Antoni Jan Blank are virtually impossible to find at the modern art market. In the auction records of the past thirty years we were able to find none!
We are very grateful to our friend and permanent advisor, well-known uniformologist and author of numerous publications on Napoleonica, Dr. Dimitri Gorchkoff (Moscow) for his generous help. He received from us the exclusive right to publish this painting accompanied by his own commentaries.
Condition: good; lined in the 19th century; in magnificent original empire frame
Creation Year: 1809
Measurements:UNFRAMED:76,0x60,0cm/29,9x23,6in FRAMED: 92,4x79,3cm/36,4x31,2in
Object Type:Framed oil painting
Technique: oil on canvas
Inscription:on verso (on stretcher) - name of one of pre-owners: J C Gourgues (2nd Half of 20th century)
Creator: Antoni Jan Blank
Creator Dates: 1785 Olsztyn-1844 Warsaw
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