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Exhibitions and Projects
5 January – 1 February 2017

Revelations, January 2017

Queen of Prussia in the National Gallery of Slovenia

Prior to the renovation of the Narodni dom Palace and the new staging of art collections in the National Gallery of Slovenia, a fine portrait of a Lady in Polish Costume hung among the works of European masters. Its painter was unknown, and 1837 as the year of its execution was uncertain. The signature and the date on the canvas are damaged and do not allow reliable reading. A lucky find of comparative material helped to solve the problem of both the artist and the identity of the sitter. The painting proved to be by the German painter Wilhelm Ternite, and the lady depicted is Louise, Queen Consort of Prussia, the wife of King Frederick William III.

The lovely Duchess Luise Auguste Wilhelmine Amalie of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Hanover 1776 – Schloss Hohenzieritz 1810) married the Prussian crown prince of the Hohenzollern House when she was only seventeen. In 1797 her husband succeeded to the throne, but as a ruler he was greatly influenced by his determined wife. Through her patriotic political activity, beneficent deeds and amiable character, and certainly also because of her beauty, Queen Louise achieved enormous popularity among the population. She was a legend in her own lifetime and one of the most frequently portrayed aristocratic ladies in European history, with a multitude of posthumous depictions. The Gallery’s painting by Ternite is an example of a portrait painted many years after Louise’s death.

Painter Wilhelm Ternite (Neustrelitz 1786 – Potsdam 1871) was at the beginning of his career when, after training at the academy in Berlin and serving a few years in the army, he could paint Louise in 1810 when she was still alive. After the end of Napoleonic Wars he was sent as a commissioner to Paris to retrieve the works of art that the French had plundered from Prussia. He spent several years in the French capital, training in the studios of Jacques-Louis David and Antoine-Jean Gros. In the 1820s he visited Italy and painted scenes from his travels after which prints were made and published in series. After his return home he became painter to the court and was appointed in 1926 inspector of royal art collections in Potsdam and around, which he remained until his retirement in 1864. He made his name portraying the wider royal family and other notables of Prussian high society.

The Gallery painting shows Queen Louise in a parade uniform of the Dragoon Regiment. Ternite portrayed Louise in a riding habit “à la hussarde” in 1810 before she died, and this picture became a prototype for a number of reprises. The relationship of Louise with the Dragoons was also formal, since the king nominated her in 1806 as chief (or honorary colonel) of the Dragoon Regiment No. 5 which was then renamed the Regiment of Queen’s Dragoons No. 5. Her role was naturally just ceremonial. Among her preserved clothes are also her Dragoon spencer jacket and the chemisette she wore underneath, both from 1806. Thus the painter had authentic attire at his disposal while painting Louise decades after her death.

As far as it has been possible to establish, at least two painted replicas of the Gallery portrait exist as well as a print, but in all of them Louise’s headdress is different from the Gallery's. So what is the point of the Polish krakuska in our case? To answer this question remains a task for the future – as does a reliable answer to the problem of the date and the provenance of the painting. The National Gallery acquired it in 1986 when it took charge of the art collections of the Slovene government. At that time the portrait hung in Brdo Castle near Kranj. A tempting explanation for the painting’s arrival in Carniola is offered by aristocratic kinship connections.

The seventh child out of ten of the Prussian royal couple was a daughter, Alexandrine (1803–1892). In 1822 she married Paul Friedrich, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1800–1842), and their second-born child, Luise (1824–1859), married in 1849 Hugo, Prince of Windischgrätz (1823–1904), and came to live in Wagensberg Castle (Bogenšperk) in Carniola. It might be then that the portrait of her grandmother, Queen Louise, came with her. Naturally, it might have also come later, for the Windischgrätz couple's daughter Marie (1856–1929) married “back” to the Mecklenburg family, her husband being Duke Paul Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. However, she continued to spend much of her time in Carniola. The Windischgrätz family remained the owners of Wagensberg Castle until the end of WW2, but they had moved away already in 1943 and took with them most of their possessions. How the Gallery painting – provided it was really with them – survived through the following turbulent decades and finished in the protocol building at Brdo is not known. The proposed provenance remains a mere hypothesis until clear – or conflicting – evidence is found. Whatever the case may be, the excellent Ternite portrait perfectly complements the Biedermeier portraiture collection in the National Gallery of Slovenia.

Author and translator
Alenka Klemenc

5 January–1 February 2017
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana