Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Of Portraits, Pearls, and Pastries
I do hope you'll forgive yet another portrait of a bygone lady, but when I saw her hanging last weekend on a wall at the Vienna City Museum, I fell just a little bit in love. And I don't think it's just her striking resemblance to Bert Lahr, either.
No, there's much to treasure here, in this 1837 portrait by one Ferndinand Georg Waldmüller, an artist I'm ashamed to admit hitherto unknown to me. How proud the dear creature is of her pearls, her lace cap and trailing veil, the jeweled buckle on her ample belt! Note, too, the almost incongruous richness of her shawl, a brilliant splash of color against the rich black of her gown - she's in mourning, possibly, but clearly not too deeply.
And who, you may well ask, is this ingratiating matron? Well, while she may not be as well documented online as our new friend Emilia of Saxony, Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach, what one can learn is interesting enough. Perhaps most entrancing is the knowledge that she was born Joséphine, the Vicomtesse Goupy de Quabeck, and if she doesn't look exactly what one might imagine a scion of the house of Goupy de Quabeck should do, I don't know who does.
Her life was not without incident, for she and the other Gs de Q ended up in Vienna in 1808 after fleeing Napoleon's rule in their native France. There, at the then-advanced age of 23, she married an enterprising man named Schwarz, a textile magnate who had made great advances in the production of printed cotton (hence, perhaps, the shawl?). She was Schwarz's second wife, and while one wonders what her noble family made of him, perhaps they were mollified when in 1835 she turned from plain Frau Schwarz into the Edle von Mohrenstern when he received a title (a modest one, but still) from the Imperial court. She outlived her husband by 14 years, but he must have left her relatively well set up, as this substantial villa was sold by her estate in 1866. What became of her pearls (not to mention her sidecurls) is sadly not immediately evident, but aren't both envy-making?
As for me, while I can claim neither pearls nor sidecurls (although my hair could probably be coaxed into something like the Vicomtesse's formidable coiffure), I am nonetheless having a lovely time in Wien. This evening, after yet another vigorous day of corporate training (if that's not entirely, as I fear it may be, an oxymoron), an amusing little group of us repaired to the Café Landtmann, which was recommended by Dear Reader snappychuck with the hearty (and spot-on) endorsement of Weston Liggett. It's a most atmospheric and evocative place, dotted with wildly Viennese characters of all stripes and decorated, this evening, by a large party of Beirut dowagers on the terrace, draped in voluminous furs, smoking like chimneys, and downing gallons of tea from the Café's capacious silver pots. We had heavenly pastries, impressively large Aperol proseccos, and lots and lots of lovely people watching. Some of the people almost - almost -approached the goupydequabeckian in the picturesqueness...