A third Millais for Orsay

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22/6/23 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée d’Orsay - Acquired from the London gallery Bagshawe Fine Art, a third portrait by John Everett Millais (ill. 1) has joined the Musée d’Orsay collections. A welcome addition to the British art collection, which until now had only included two works by this major representative of English painting in the second half of the 19th century, the Portrait of Sarah Hammond also reconstitutes the pair it formed with the Portrait of Charles Wertheimer (ill. 2) already held there. Executed three years earlier, this pendant entered French public collections in 1914 thanks to a gift from the model’s wife. Following on from the stained glass window by Burne-Jones and Morris (see news item of 9/12/20) and the watercolours by Arthur George Walker and Arthur Severn (see news items of 25/2/22 and 9/2/23), this new purchase illustrates the Musée d’Orsay’s determination to expand its still small collection of British art.

1. John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
Portrait of Sarah Hammond, 1891
Oil on canvas - 127 x 87 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay/RMN-GP/Sophie Crépy
See the image in its page

Far from the meticulous Pre-Raphaelite method from which Millais turned away from the mid-1850s, the Portrait of Sarah Hammond falls within the realist vein then definitively embraced - for portraits, adored, but also for landscapes and imaginative subjects -, a vigorous effigy of a determined-looking middle-aged woman. As the Musée d’Orsay’s notice states [1], the identity of the sitter of this portrait was unclear for a long time. Painted in 1891, it was commissioned by Charles Wertheimer, who, along with his brother Asher and Thomas Agnew, was one of London’s most influential art dealers in the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was also one of Millais’s most important patrons, and is known to have owned at least ten paintings, including several major works now in private collections, Cherry Ripe, Cinderella and Christmas Eve.

2. John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
Portrait of Charles J. Wertheimer, 1888
Oil on canvas - 128 x 84 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : RMN-GP/Musée d’Orsay/Martine Beck-Coppola
See the image in its page

Exhibited from 1891 at the New Gallery in London under the title Portrait of a Lady, the effigy was identified by the Telegraph as that of Mrs Charles Wertheimer. So when it was shown again at the Society of Portrait Painters in 1894 and then in the posthumous exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1898, the title chosen was Mrs Charles Wertheimer. In 1891 Charles Wertheimer had been separated from his lawful wife for some twenty years and was living with Sarah Hammond, whom he left in the 1890s before marrying Jessica Trautz for the second time after the death of his first wife in 1904. It was his second wife who donated the Portrait of Charles Wertheimer to the Louvre shortly after her husband’s death in 1911. As for the Sarah Hammond Portrait, Charles Wertheimer specified in his will that he bequeathed it to his former companion. Referred to as "Miss Sarah Hammond’s Millais painting", the portrait was not correctly identified, however, and was re-recorded by Sarah Hammond’s niece in the 1960s under the title attributed to it at her first public exhibitions, Mrs Charles Wertheimer. It was only thanks to very recent research by biographer Jean Strouse, who is preparing to publish a book on Asher Wertheimer and his special relationship with John Singer Sargent this autumn, that the above-mentioned biographical details shed light on the model’s identity.

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