Historical Portraits Picture Archive

‘Der Kleine Lieutenant’, Portrait of Hans Herwarth von Bittenfeld (1887-1970) 1902

Sir John Lavery (1856-1941)

‘Der Kleine Lieutenant’, Portrait of Hans Herwarth von Bittenfeld (1887-1970), Sir John Lavery
Oil on canvas
20th Century
47 x 37 inches (19.5 x 94 cm)
The Artist; Thence by descent
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This important portrait is a fine work by Sir John Lavery, one of the leading artists of the early twentieth century. It was painted in 1902, and was publicly exhibited twice, in 1902 and 1912. It belonged to the artist himself, and descended in his family until acquired from them by Philip Mould Ltd. The picture is one of only a handful of surviving portraits painted by Lavery during his trips to Berlin in the early twentieth century. The sitter, the Prussian aristocrat Hans Herwarth von Bittenfeld, is here dressed in the uniform of a military cadet at the age of fifteen. Lavery called the picture, ‘The Young Lieutenant’.

Sir John Lavery was born in Ireland, but at the age of seventeen was apprenticed to a photographer in Glasgow. Determined to become an artist, he saved enough money from his work to enrol as a student at art college in Glasgow, at a time when the group of Glaswegian modern artists known as the ‘Glasgow School’ was beginning to become internationally known. His breakthrough came when we won a commission to paint the visit of Queen Victoria to the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1888, when he secured a sitting from the Queen for her portrait.

From then on, portraiture formed the basis of his career. His style is instantly recognisable for its open, free and broad technique, as seen here, which conveys an impression of spontaneity and genius, as well as capturing an accurate likeness. He often returned to his earlier profession of photography to aid him in capturing likenesses and large group compositions. Such skill allowed Lavery to paint acclaimed portraits of the Royal Family and aristocracy, and he quickly became one of the leading society painters, alongside artists such as William Orpen and John Singer Sargent. He undertook three widely anticipated visits to Berlin to paint portraits, where this work was completed, and exhibited his commissions each year in the Schulte Gallery. He was knighted in 1918, and was a member of the Royal Academy, and the Royal Hibernian Academy.
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