This bust reappeared at Sotheby’s Paris as part of the sale of the collection of Marshal Berthier, Prince de Wagram. We only knew of the work through the literature. The Heritage Fund was able to purchase the bust, which now constitutes an important addition to our heritage.
The bust is one of the rare secular works to have come to us by Belgian sculptor Philippus Alexander Franciscus Nijs (1724-1805). Yet some of the works Nijs made are of great quality, including a terracotta Saint Peter, which is held at the Mayer van den Bergh Museum in Antwerp.
The statuette representing Charles de Lorraine, Governor General of the Austrian Netherlands from 1741 to 1780, falls within the tradition of princely portraits destined for collections that were kept in cabinets of curiosities, to which only distinguished guests would have access. At the Hapsburg Court, it was the custom to commission small, high-quality portraits for these collections, which had the aim of impressing VIP guests such as the sovereigns of other princely houses or their ambassadors. Few statuettes of this type have been conserved, hence the Heritage Fund’s interest in acquiring this bust of Charles de Lorraine.
The bust was completed at a turning point in the sculptor’s career. Shortly after this commission, Philippus Nijs was appointed Court Sculptor, notably in 1759 when Charles de Lorraine visited the artist’s birthplace of Tamise, in the Pays de Waes. The artist lost no time in adding his royal appointment to his signature and also had it engraved in gold letters above the entrance to his house.
Charles de Lorraine was Governor General of the Austrian Netherlands and lived in the princely palace currently located on the Mont des Arts in Brussels. Advised by his ministers Karl Johann von Coblenzl and Wenzel Anton Von Kaunitz, Charles de Lorraine had a great influence on the intellectual and artistic development of the region and in particular favoured the decorative arts. There are, however, very few portraits of this Hapsburg prince, making this bust in pam wood even more precious.