Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Johann Strauss the Younger (1825-1899), 1895 

Franz von Lenbach 

Portrait of Johann Strauss the Younger (1825-1899), 1895, Franz von Lenbach
Oil on canvas
19th Century
38 x 28 in (96.5 x 71 cm)
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Many of Johann Strauss the Younger’s compositions dominate our musical conception of the nineteenth century. The popularity of classics such as ‘The Blue Danube’ underline his popular title as ‘the King of Waltz’. He is also known for his intense rivalry with his father, who, probably out of jealousy, not only attempted to stop his son’s musical training, but also sought to bar him from the concert halls of his native Vienna. Strauss the Younger nevertheless went on to surpass his father’s fame, and revolutionized the Waltz into music fit for, and culturally associated with, the Habsburg court.

This portrait of Strauss was painted in 1895, when he was at the height of his fame, just four years before his death. The painter, Franz Von Lenbach, was then also one of the most celebrated artists of the century, and at the peak of his powers. Lenbach was the chief portraitist to the aristocratic and political elite of Germany, and his sitters included King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Kaiser Frederick, Field Marshal von Moltke as well as the ‘Iron Chancellor’ Prince Bismarck, whom he painted numerous times. He developed what was to become an international style of grand manner portraiture, with rich colouring, and extravagant, glamorous compositions.

This example is an unfinished sketch from the sittings Strauss gave Lenbach in 1895, when he commissioned his own portrait. The finished picture [whereabouts unknown] shows the sitter in a chair, and is illustrated with a musical score. It is not known why the present portrait was abandoned, but in its unfinished state we are afforded a glimpse of Lenbach’s working technique, with vigorous brush strokes on top of a more finely drawn sketch.

Both the finished portrait and the current unfinished example are derived in part from Lenbach’s experimentation with the new medium of photography. For a portraitist used to long sittings with his subjects in order to capture a likeness, Lenbach found that photography allowed him to observe, at length, much more vivid expressions usually lost in a moment. He would often use the camera secretly, behind a curtain, or, as in this case, with the sitter’s knowledge. A set of photographs survives for the current portrait, in which Strauss is seen clearly enjoying posing for the camera [Lenbacharchiv, Neven Dumont, Cologne].

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