A version, signed and dated 1765, is in the Staatliches Museum, Schwerin (E. Steinmann & H. Witte, Georg David Matthieu - Ein deutscher Maler des Rokoko (1737-1778), 1911, p.39, n015). The date 1798 suggests that the present lot was probably used as a gift to one of the sitter's many contacts throughout Europe.
The artist has taken great effort in the rendering of the precious clothes and jewellery. The sitter, seemingly surprised by an unexpected interruptor, is depicted holding a letter she has just finished writing. The present work is a fine example of the artist's work after 1764, when he dedicated himself exclusively to making portraits of the members of the Mecklenburg family.
Born in Berlin in 1737 as the son of the Prussian court painter David Matthieu and Dorothea Lisiewski, he was raised by his stepmother Anna Rosina Lisiewski (for a portrait by her see lot 38) from 1741 onwards. It seems likely that he was apprenticed to his father and his stepmother, and probably also with his uncle Christian Friedrich Reinhold Lisiewski (see for a portrait by him lot 16) (I. Schwibbe, "Über Matthieu und seine Zeit" in Georg David Matthieu- 1737-1778 - Malerei.Pastelle.Grafik, exhibition catalogue, Staatlichen Museum, Schwerin, 1978, pp.11/12).
It was none other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who mentioned Matthieu for the first time. In his account of Philipp Hackert's life, Goethe records Hackert's stay in Stralsund, Sweden at the court of Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Olthoff, where Matthieu and Hackert were together in 1762 (E. Steinmann & H. Witte, Georg David Matthieu. Ein deutscher Maler des Rokoko (1737-1778), 1911, p.22).
It was there, in 1762, that Matthieu received his first commission from a member of the Mecklenburg family, when he portrayed Charlotte, Queen of England, Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (I. Schwibbe, op. cit., p.16). Thus, his appointment as court painter by Friedrich der Fromme, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, in 1764, may not have come as a surprise. Life at the court in Ludwigslust followed strict protocols and rules based on the hierarchy established by Duke Friedrich Wilhelm in 1704. This hierarchy comprised 24 ranks, and the court painter was to be placed in the 20th rank. Working for 250 Reichstalers a year, with free food and housing for him and his family, Matthieu had to start his career in meagre conditions. However, he also received a fixed price for every picture he delivered. As pointed out by E. Steinmann in Porträt-Ausstellung des Mecklenburgischen Hofmalers Georg David Matthieu, exhibition catalogue, Grossherzogliches Museum, Schwerin, 1 June-15 August 1911, p.12, Matthieu was very popular with Ulrike Sophie, sister of the reigning duke, who seems to have showered him with commissions. As is proved by the many bills that have been preserved, Ulrike Sophie ordered many portraits of herself, to adorn the walls of the various castles of the Mecklenburg family or to give away to her many friends and relatives in Europe.
Matthieu's success as a portrait painter can hardly be considered surprising, as he readily adjusted to the Rococo-idiom, following French portraiture and emphasizing the nobility of his sitters. Their importance and status was stressed by Matthieu's refined colour-schemes, his elaborately detailed costumes and jewellery and the rich interiors. In the present lot the library in the background draws attention to the sitter's education and her interest in literature and science.
From 1764 onwards, Matthieu continued to work in Ludwigslust, until he died there at the age of 41 and was succeeded by his uncle Christian Friedrich Reinhold Lisiewski (see lot 16). His skill in portraiture was praised by his contemporaries all over Europe, as becomes clear from the account the Englishman Thomas Nugent gave of his visit to Ludwigslust in 1766. Nugent tells about his visit to the court painter's studio and makes it clear that he was highly impressed by the painter and his work (Th. Nugent, Travels through Germany, London 1766, p.319).
The sitter, daughter of Christian Ludwig II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1683-1756) and Gustave Karoline, Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1694-1748), remained unmarried.
See colour illustration