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    Description

    GUSTAV WERTHEIMER (German, 1847-1902)
    The Shipwreck of Agrippina
    Oil on canvas
    63 x 94-3/4 inches (160 x 240.5 cm)

    PROVENANCE:
    Henry Janssen and Gustav Oberlaender, Wyomissing, PA;
    Bequeathed by the above to the Reading Public Museum, PA, 1926;
    Acquired from the above to a private collection, 2005.

    LITERATURE:
    J. D. Chaplin, ed. Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, New York, vol. 4, p. 424.
    J.E. Reed, The Masterpieces of German Art, Philadelphia (publ.Gebbie & Co.), c. 1895, vol. 2, pl. 48, illus.


    The late 19th-century Austrian academic painter Gustav Wertheimer drew heavily from a baroque tradition, emphasizing chiaroscuro and climactic narratives in his historical and mythological paintings. His 1874 Agrippina tells the story of Emperor Nero's failed attempt to have his mother, Agrippina, murdered in a sinking boat. Borrowing from the Roman historian Tacitus, the art historian J. Eugene Reed described the painting in his 1895 Masterpieces of German Art:

    To disarm [Agrippina's] suspicions, [Nero] wrote her a most affectionate letter inviting her to Baiae to celebrate with him the festival of Minerva. She accepted the invitation and was most cordially entertained; but on departing she was provided with a vessel that was so contrived that it would fall to pieces when out at sea. Our artist has pictured this catastrophe. It happened, however, that the boat was not too far from land for Agrippina to save herself by swimming ashore. Nero, who sat up very late that night for news of the success of his murderous plot, was in despair when informed by a messenger from Agrippina herself that she was safe and well. . . . Wertheimer is an able historical painter of Vienna. . . . [Agrippina] shows, in common with other of the artist's productions, marked ability in composition and a fine sense of color (note to pl. 48).


    In Agrippina, Wertheimer captures two dramatic and sequential plot events: in the center of the painting, a silk-draped canopy, secretly weighted with lead, is collapsing, causing the boat to fold in half. Anxiety-struck, Agrippina pushes her way from beneath the entrapping bed hanging and simultaneously protects her terrified attendant, Acerronia Polla. To the right, malicious oarsmen in the shadows stab Acceronia with poles, ultimately drowning her, while, beyond the picture plane, Agrippina escapes unharmed. Wertheimer's dynamic brushwork, accentuation of curved lines in the waves and boat, spotlighting of the fearful women, and concentration of blood-red fabrics collectively intensify this masterful composition.




    Condition Report*:  
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2010
    27th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,498

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

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