THE DI PORTANOVA COLLECTION THE BARON AND BARONESS DI PORTANOVA A MEMOIR BY MEREDITH ETHERINGTON-SMITH To their many, many friends all over the world, it is difficult to believe two such life-enhancers as Sandra and Ricky have given their last party and spoiled their last house guest at Arabesque in Acapulco, surely one of the world's most extraordinary houses. Ricky and Sandra were destined for each other. They loved each other; they live an enchanted life and they shared their happiness and good fortune unstintingly. Ricky had the dashing good looks of a fifties' movie star - he always reminded me of Errol Flynn. And Sandra! To see the Baroness in ballgown and jewels setting forth from Claridges, in her sea-green Rolls Royce, was to see a rare and exotic beauty in full sail. The Portanova's house in River Oaks, Houston was crammed full of wonderful pictures, furniture and objets de vertu. I remember one dinner party there; forty people were seated beside the pool at tables which Sandra had caused to be set with their Salvador Dali vermeil flatware together with the huge 'Moth and Flame' candelabras, which illuminated the event. Their house in Acapulco was no less full of the beautiful and the extraordinary culled from their travels all over the world. Ricky would show one a rare shell, or an exquisite piece of Fabérgé hidden in a box. They assembled marvelous tablescapes and the dining room was never set with the same arrangement. 'Living well is the best revenge' might have been coined as Sandra and Ricky's motto. They lived an enchanted life and the world is poorer for their absence.

The Three Ages of Man

The Three Ages of Man
oil on canvas
43½ x 57 in. (110.5 x 144.8 cm.)
King Louis-Philippe of France (1773-1850), Palais Royal, Paris; transferred to the royal residence in Neuilly by 1847; (+) sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 11 March 1859, lot 9.
Private collection, Paris and Monte Carlo.
Anon. Sale, MM. Le Houelleur et Clergeot, Deauville, Napoléon et son temps: exposition d'Art Français du Premier Empire (for the benefit of the French Red Cross and Le Bureau d'Aide Sociale), 29 August 1969, lot 52, fig. 36.
with Wildenstein, New York by 1969, and from whom acquired by the Baron and Baroness Enrico di Portanova in 1981.
M. Belog, Inventaire des Tableaux du Roi Louis-Philippe, Ms. 132, III.
J. Vatouf, Notices Historiques sur les tableaux de la Galerie de S.A.R. Mgr. le Duc d' Orléans, IV, 1826, pp. 91-93, no. 31.
A. C., Quatremère de Quincy, liste du receuil de notices historiques lues dans les séances publiques de l'Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts à l'Institut, 1837, p. 23.
J. Vatout, Notices Historiques sur les les Tableaux de la Galerie de S.A.R. Mgr. le Duc d'Orléans, 1838, p. 342 (described as hanging in the Galerie des Bijoux).
Inventaire des Résidences, 1847, Neuilly (Paris, A.M.N., 36DD4).
N. Garnier-Pelle, Chantilly, Musée Condé; peintures des XIXe et XXe siècles, Paris, 1997, under no. 104, pp. 158 and 160.
New York, Wildenstein, French Neo-classicism, paintings, drawings, and sculptures from the Gallery's collection, 1976, no. 3.
London, Wildenstein, Consulat-Empire-Restauration, 1981, exhibited ex-catalogue.

Lot Essay

The present painting is a reduced-scale, autograph replica of one of Baron Gérard's masterpieces, The Three Ages of Man, that hangs in the Galerie de Peinture of the Musée Condé at Chantilly. The original (measuring 255 x 322 cm.) was created in 1806, exhibited to much acclaim in the Paris Salon of 1808, exhibited once again in the Decennial competition of 1810 and immediately thereafter shipped to Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples and youngest of the Emperor Napoleon's sisters, who had purchased it for her collection; by the end of that year it was installed in the Royal Palace in Naples. After the disgrace of the Murats and Caroline's escape to Austria, the picture was purchased by the Prince of Salerno, and acquired in 1854 by his son-in-law, the Duc d'Aumale, châtelain of the Château de Chantilly.

The history of the Portanova replica is equally illustrious. Although it is not clear exactly when it was executed, the reduced version was in the collection of the King of France, Louis-Philippe (1773-1850) by 1826 when it appears in the royal inventory of the Palais-Royal. As the king was one of Baron Gérard's principal patrons, it is likely that the painting was produced for him on commission. For unknown reasons it was transferred sometime after 1838 to the royal residence in Neuilly, where it is recorded in 1847. The move was fortuitous since, had it remained in Paris, it would almost certainly have been destroyed in the fire that swept through the palace during the Revolution of 1848; such was the fate of Gérard's original oil sketch of the composition, which had also belonged to the king.

Set in a magnificent landscape that consciously evokes the Roman campagna of Poussin, The Three Ages of Man depicts three classical figures that personify the stages of life: old age in the guise of a white-bearded elder with a walking stick, vigorous maturity in the form of a virile youth, and infancy represented by a sleeping baby. It is a traditional presentation of a time-honored subject in the visual arts, except for the remarkable presence of a garlanded female who occupies the center of the composition and links through her own body all of the other characters. Her role in the allegory is explained in the livret of the Salon of 1808: '"In the voyage of Life, Woman is the guide, the attraction and the support of Man" (An Oriental Maxim).'

Critics of the time praised the picture's refined coloring and magnificent landscape -- a 'beautiful site in happy the manner of Poussin' (Landon) -- as well as 'the touching expression that reigns over the face of the young woman and the innocent simplicity that embellishes the composition...'. Gérard's contemporaries especially admired the profound elegance of the figures who seemed transported as if by magic from 'the pastoral century', and the delicate, evanescent poetry that characterizes the overall mood of the picture and still moves viewers today.

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