This dazzling bust of Flora is, as much as stone can be, as fresh and lovely as Spring itself. It is also a rare and exciting re-discovery by Christian Daniel Rauch, one of the most celebrated German sculptors of the nineteenth century. He achieved widespread acclaim across Europe during his lifetime and, as the leading figure of the ‘Berlin School,’ is one of the best-known proponents of German neoclassical sculpture. This bust also may be a long-lost link between Rauch and one of his most important patrons, Emperor Nicholas I and the Imperial Russian family.
A GIFT TO THE EMPRESS?
This composition was originally intended as the study for a head of Danaid commissioned by Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. Rauch took great care in the model’s creation, choosing Luise Engel, a young woman famed for her beauty, for his subject. Dissatisfied, however, with his inability to capture the longing expression necessary for a Danaid, he transformed the study into a Flora, adding the elaborate wreath adorned with a double band of flowers. In 1839, Rauch noted in a letter that he sent a version of the Flora composition as a forerunner to the Danaid to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, who was so pleased with the piece that she thanked him with a diamond ring decorated with her cipher (Correspondence between Rauch and former pupil Rietschel, see Eggers). Rauch charmingly declared the bust to be a ‘fallen chip’ from his larger Danaid composition for the Emperor, which was finished in the same year to great acclaim (Cheney, op. cit., p. 268).
In her catalogue raisonné on the artist, von Simson discusses three marble busts of Flora, the first one gifted to the Empress, the second, a significantly damaged version, in a private Berlin collection in the late 1990s and a third recorded in the account book (for further discussion on Rauch’s Flora compositions see von Simson). It is possible that this piece is the latter, however, given the provenance of the present bust, it is more probable that this work is that which was gifted to the Empress in the 1830s.
Further strengthening the Imperial Russian provenance, is that this bust formed part of the collection of the painter Paraskewe von Bereskine which was sold Stuker Galerie, Bern, Spring, 2014 (lots 1218, 1222, 1224, 1230[?], 1255[?], 1263, 1268 and 1269). Included in this sale were multiple lots of Russian origin and documented pieces from the Imperial Russian collections and formerly in the Palace of Pavlovsk and the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.
RAUCH: A 19TH CENTURY CELEBRITY
Rauch’s sculptures still shape the landscape of many German cities today. He was particularly sought after for his public monuments and he found favor among many royal and aristocratic collectors, including the Prussian ruling family and the royal houses of Bavaria and Hanover. In 1804, Rauch was awarded a scholarship to study in Italy. The six years he spent there were formative in the development of his fascination with antique sculpture and instrumental in the creation of a network of noble patrons. Whilst in Rome, he became friends with Caroline and Wilhelm von Humboldt who introduced Rauch into their social circle of artists, philosophers and collectors. These included the painter Angelica Kauffman and sculptors Canova and Thorvaldsen who was a particularly important source of inspiration for Rauch.
Interest in Rauch and the ‘Berlin School’ was not only limited to the Continent. Rauch was collected by members of the British aristocracy including the sixth Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Wellington, who visited Rauch’s studio in 1826 and subsequently commissioned several works. He was also featured in London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Upon his death, the Prussian state bought the artist’s remaining works to form the Rauch Museum housed in the artist’s birthplace of Arolsen.
While Rauch may have become famous for his public monuments and well-publicized royal commissions, his reputation has been revived by sculptures such as the present bust. It is technically brilliant but, most of all, it’s modern appeal is that it is refreshingly intimate and intensely personal.