Getty Adds an Enlightenment Prince

Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony, 1751. J. Paul Getty Museum
The Getty Museum has acquired Anton Raphael Mengs' Portrait of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony. Made when the artist and sitter were in their 20s, it was Mengs' first state portrait at the Dresden court. The painting remained in the subject's family until July 2022, when Christies auctioned it for £475,000 (about $600,000). It went to London dealership Thomas Agnew & Sons, who sold it to the Getty. The portrait measures 61 by 43 inches and came with a rococo frame believed to be the original.

J.S. Bach composed a cantata ("Hercules at the Crossroads") for Friedrich Christian's 10th birthday. The child was no Hercules. Considered sickly, he used canes and a sedan chair, possibly a consequence of cerebral palsy. ("I suppose you know he has been lame from his birth," wrote one snarky aristocrat, "and is carried about in a chair, though a beautiful person from the waist upwards.") Mengs' portrait ignores the prince's physical challenges, presenting him in ancestral armor. 

The Saxon game of thrones found the prince's mother and younger brother scheming to cut Friedrich Christian out of the line of succession. A couple of timely deaths led to Friedrich Christian assuming the Saxon throne in 1763. He ruled as an Enlightenment monarch until he died of smallpox just 74 days later. 

Mengs is less well known to today's museum public than his rivals Tiepolo and Goya. But Winckelmann singled out Mengs as "the greatest artist of his time and perhaps of succeeding times." In recent years American museums (including LACMA, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan) have sought works by Mengs. The Getty has informal Mengs portraits of a Spanish diplomat and an Irish Grand Tourist (a pastel). Of all these pictures, the Portrait of Friedrich Christian is the most ambitious.

Agnew produced a publication on the portrait's history, available online. It says that the painting has not been exhibited in over a century. 

Detail of Polish Order of the White Eagle. The prince's family ruled Poland as well as Saxony


Classic Mengs. Congratulations, Getty.
I never ever go to a museum and pass up seeing a Mengs if they have one. Superb portraitist. Stunning history painter, too.

"The Triumph of History over Time," on the ceiling of the Vatican Library, well, it's a triumph!:


There's "The Adoration of the Shepherds" at the Prado that dazzles:

Anonymous said…
Hope the Getty did not spend all of its allowance on this painting.

There is a Velazquez coming to auction.
I hope Getty doesn't fall for it. That portrait's essentially a dynastic trading card, like so many others.
The era of available stunning Velazquezes went out the window with Juan de Pareja.
Keep your eye on the prizes that truly reward -- the Mengs picture, for example.
Anonymous said…
^ I always wonder how they map out their acquisitions budget. I grimace when I think of the missed opportunities through the years, particularly when Barry Munitz was in charge.

As for the Mengs, the Getty website shows the backside of the painting. What's that all about? It's almost like they're scoping out the work to assist potential buyers curious about its condition.

Also, given the Goya at the Huntington and the Mengs at the Getty, I recall LACMA in past years announcing a holiday gift in December, often by way of the Ahmanson Foundation. However, crickets nowadays. I hope the museum's future isn't fated to be mainly a contemporary-type art museum ("and not a very good one at that").
Re your "As for the Mengs, the Getty website shows the backside of the painting. What's that all about? It's almost like they're scoping out the work to assist potential buyers curious about its condition.":

I doubt there's anything nefarious. Pictures of this age are commomly relined, which can have a damaging effect on the paint surface on the obverse. The photo is simply showing the good, unlined condition of the picture.

Velázquez's Juan de Pareja is unlined, as an aside. I remember reading somewhere (maybe it's apocryphal) about the circumstances under which the Met's curators were first shown the painting, but were not permitted to view the reverse to see if it had a new lining. Hours passed, with lots of coffees, prompting the guard to need to use the WC. The curators checked and found no potentially damaging lining. WWWWWEEEE!
Anonymous said…
@Ted Gallagher NYC
You are a better thief than connoisseur.
Oh wait, the gallery caught you...
Whatever the case, stay in your lane.