Portrait of the Empress Eugénie

Portrait of the Empress Eugenie
Portrait of the Empress Eugenie

Written by Jeannie Swales

The Empress Eugénie, after Franz Xavier Winterhalter – sadly, not the original, which will be worth far more than this version!

Scarborough’s version is by an unknown artist, painted some time in the 1950s, and part of the collection of paintings bequeathed to the town by the late hotelier Tom Laughton. She’s painted on the reverse of an oval of glass.

Franz Xavier Winterhalter (1805-1873) was a German painter whose portrait skills were much sought after by the royals of Europe – he is widely regarded as the leading court portrait painter of his time. He portrayed our own Queen Victoria many times, from youth to middle age – she loved his work, and called him ‘excellent, delightful Winterhalter’; there are over 100 of his works in the Royal Collection.

His most famous portrait of the Empress is probably the lavish and romantic Empress Eugénie surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, which portrays her in flowing white and lavender, surrounded by eight richly dressed attendants.

The Winterhalter original of this much more formal portrait has a considerably more lavish background than the Scarborough version, of red velvet curtains opening onto a garden scene with columns and fountains. And Eugenie’s hand is hovering above a crown on a red velvet cushion.

Our unknown 1950s artist has faithfully copied the detail of Eugénie’s pose, dress, and jewellery, with one exception – he’s changed the bustle at the back of her skirt from dark green to red.

There are at least two other copies of this picture, attributed as ‘after Winterhalter’, by two much lesser-known French artists, Etienne Billet and Francois Gabriel Guillaume Lepaulle.

Eugenie (1826-1920) was born Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales and was the last Empress consort of the French from 1853 to 1871 as the wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.

Fiercely political, she was a genuine power behind the throne, often consulted with by her husband on important matters of state.

Somewhat bizarrely, when the Second French Empire was overthrown after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, she and her husband fled to England settling at Chislehurst, Kent. After Napoleon’s death in 1873, and that of her son in 1879, she moved in 1885 to Farnborough, Hampshire, where she is buried.

The portrait is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects that have been acquired by the borough over the 
years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums 

For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or (01723) 384510.