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Johann Heinrich Ludwig Möller (1814-1885)

Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). Signed and dated 1840

Watercolour on ivory laid on card | 11.8 x 9.0 cm (sight) | RCIN 420824

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  • This work is the record of a close bond between two eminent figures. A copy after an 1833 portrait by the French artist Horace Vernet, the miniature depicts the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen with chisel in hand, resting his elbow on a trestle next to a portrait bust of Vernet that he made in the same year. As a gesture of friendship the two artists exchanged these portraits in the early 1830s. Today both Vernet's painting and a large-scale marble version of Thorvaldsen's original clay bust are in Copenhagen's Thorvaldsen Museum which was founded in 1838, when the artist was welcomed as a national hero on his return to Denmark.

    Having trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Thorvaldsen moved to Rome in 1797 and became regarded as the foremost Neoclassical sculptor of his age. Vernet, a prominent battle painter born of an illustrious artistic dynasty, met Thorvalsden in Rome while Principal of the École de France. At a banquet held in honour of Vernet's departure from Ita

    Painted by Möller in 1840 before he came to England, after a portrait by Horace Vernet (1789 – 1863) showing Thorvaldsen modelling the bust of the artist. Both Thorvaldsen's bust (1832) and Vernet's portrait, signed, dated and inscribed 'Horace Vernet à Son Illustre ami Torwaldsen Rome 1833', are in the Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen (inv. nos B95 and A253). There were no sculptures by Thorvaldsen himself in the Royal Collection during Queen Victoria's reign, although two copies after his sculptures of Cardinal Consalvi and Pope Pius VII had been acquired by George IV. However, the interiors at Osborne House owe much to his influence due to several replicas of his Night and Day roundels incorporated into the decor. It may have been Prince Albert who chose to purchase this miniature representing a universally admired sculptor who spent many years in Rome at the heart of the artistic community and was deeply influential on many German artists of the neo-classical school who congregated there. Although Prince Albert visited Rome late in 1839, Thorvaldsen had by that point returned to Denmark and there is no suggestion that they ever met in person.

    Berthel Thorvaldsen was the leading Danish exponent of neo-classical sculpture. Born in Copenhagen, he worked in Italy for more than 40 years from 1796 and was regarded as the competitor to Antonio Canova. His collection of sculpture and antiquities is in the Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen.

    Signed on a leg of the trestle in white paint: J. Möller 1840 and inscribed on the reverse in ink: Portrait of Thorwaldsen [sic]/ painted by / Johannes Möller / 1840 / at Copenhagen.

    Provenance

    Purchased from the artist by Queen Victoria, 1853

  • Medium and techniques

    Watercolour on ivory laid on card

    Measurements

    11.8 x 9.0 cm (sight)

    13.1 x 10.3 cm (frame, external)

    11.8 x 9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)