From the archives: monthly feature
Clara Schumann's? At first sight, the resemblance is striking. Hair style and clothing match what we see in the portraits from around 1860 (since the death of Robert Schumann in 1856 she wore dark clothes exclusively, and a black ribbon in her hair). Upon close study the face too shows many similarities. For instance, the striking curve from cheekbones to chin, and the shade of the eyes.
|What is different from all published photographic portraits is the gaze, straight at the beholder. This confrontation makes the portrait particularly interesting. It also makes it more difficult to establish whether this is indeed Clara Schumann.
Photographer is H.Ph.J. Schuiten. Little is known about him, except that he was active in Amsterdam in the 1860’s and ‘70’s. The photo belongs to the archive of the composer and conductor Richard Hol (1825-1904). Since the album which originally contained the photographs in Hol's collection is lost, it is impossible to reconstruct the original context. There are no other clues as to the identity of the person portrayed. Upon comparison with a photograph by H. Prothmann, also in the Hol archive, the identification seems however highly credible.
Historically it is very well possible that this is Clara Schumann, and that her picture got into Hol’s collection. Hol lived in Amsterdam until 1862. Clara made several appearances in the Dutch capital, including performances in 1860 and 1863. On 17 January 1863 she played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5 in Utrecht, with Hol conducting the Collegium Musicum Ultrajectinum of which he had recently taken charge. The music journal Caecilia reported: “It says enough, that her noble interpretation and virtuosity provoked resounding acclaim from the audience, and that fanfares were played in her honour after Beethoven’s concerto [...]” (p. 34-35). During this concert she also accompanied the singer Sophie Offermans in repertoire including Robert Schumann’s Widmung (from Myrthen). One day earlier, on 16 January, she had played in the Felix Meritis concert hall in Amsterdam. Hol was not conducting, but may have been present; on 9 January he conducted the Amsterdam Student’s Union and was honoured with a baton mounted with silver (Caecilia, p. 38). One day later (18 January) Clara played again in Amsterdam, this time chamber music.
For reasons unknown the other portrait opposite has at some time been identified as representing Clara Schumann. The facial resemblance is minimal, and clothing and hair style differ radically from those on other portraits. The lady has been photographed in the studio of J.L. de Lavieter & Co. De Lavieter owned a coffee shop; photographer in the firm was in fact his associate and brother in law, François Joseph Cuissinier (1840-1903). Among the many photographs under the signature of De Lavieter & Co in the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) there is no duplicate of this portrait (the chair however we encounter many times).
The photographic collection of the NMI contains 15.000 catalogued items, as well as a considerable number uncatalogued. Most of these belong to the music archives. Missing data often present riddles for the description. With the enormous increase of online data they can often be solved much more easily than in the past. Still, many questions remain.
One of the more interesting unidentified portraits in the Hol archive is the gentleman here depicted in his overcoat. One might detect some resemblance with Hans Christian Andersen. The Danish writer has visited the Netherlands in 1847, 1866 and 1868. A rare photograph of Andersen is in the archive of composer Johannes Verhulst, whom he visited. On comparison with this portrait and with many in the Odense City Museum, the resemblance remains unconvincing.
A second possible identification is more likely. The Dutch singer Willem Pasques de Chavonnes Vrugt (1798-1873) is known by face only from prints and one photograph, made shortly before his death. The tenor enjoyed extraordinary popularity in the 1830’s, due not only to his powerful voice but especially to his performances of patriotic repertoire in a period that nationalism ran high, during and after the Belgian Revolution (which resulted in the divorce of the Belgians from the Dutch). Vrugt’s career declined in the 1840’s. If this is a portrait of the singer, he should be close to sixty. That seems not unlikely.
Lodewijk Muns & Karijn Dillmann, 28-9-2012
Burger, Ernst, and Gerd Nauhaus. Robert Schumann, eine Lebenschronik in Bildern und Dokumenten. Mainz; New York: Schott 1998
Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Photographer: H. Prothmann, Königsberg. NMI, Richard Hol Archive (70/F1164).
See also the portrait by Prothmann in the Sammlung Mannskopf, Goethe Universität, Frankfurt a.M.
Unidentified woman. Photographer: J.L. de Lavieter & Co, The Hague.
Unidentified man. Photographer: anonymous. NMI, Richard Hol Archive (70/F2763)
H.C. Andersen portraits in the Odense City Museum
Image of Willem Pasques de Chavonnes Vrugt