L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Overblown and unpleasant kings - Wilhelm II and Carol II, portraits by de László

Emperor Wilhelm II, 1909-11.
Though recently repaired, the portrait still shows the marks of  five slashes apparently inflicted by Russian soldiers at the end of World War II.

The first grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, "Willy" suffered a birth injury that permanently damaged his left arm; many believe his disability, and others' reaction to it, severely affected his psychology. He was further warped by his early indoctrination into the all-pervasive Prussian military milieu, and manipulated by politicians who were opposed to the liberal ideas of his father, and who encouraged his increasingly arrogant and pompous behavior. He was eventually alienated from his parents, directing his anger and spite at his mother, especially. As an adult, he was decidedly a poseur, rarely appearing out of military uniform, and presenting himself in portraits as the personification of the most bombastic and bellicose form of kingship. Callous and vindictive, petty and dictatorial, fairly humorless, meddling. Oh, and World War I.

The painting before restoration. The central arch of the colonnade of the Communs, Neues Palais, Potsdam, can be seen in the background.
A finished sketch for the full-length portrait, 1909.
Two sketches for the portrait, circa 1908-11. Here, in the background, the Communs is shown from the same angle as in the photograph below.
In the studio: the artist, the horse, one of the artist's sons, and the unfinished painting, 1911.
At this stage, the building in the background still looks to be a view of a wing of the Communs rather than the colonnade.
Sketch of the borzoi included in the painting, though reversed. In the smaller sketch to the right of the dog, here, one can make out the
Emperor and the horse in the same configuration as in the final painting, but the dog - as here - is in a reversed position. Circa 1908-10.
Reference photograph with sketch of  the horse's head and the dog in its originally planned position. As in the finished painting,
the Communs of the Neues Palais can be seen in the background, though viewed from a different perspective.
Reference photograph. The Emperor is posed on the terrace of the Neues Palais, Potsdam.


King Carol II of Romania, 1936.

A great-grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Carol grew up under the control of his great-uncle King Carol I, who spoiled the child and, at the same time, instilled a "profound love of German militarism". He also largely excluded the boy's parents from any role in his upbringing; Carol would eventually become alienated from his parents, especially his mother the vivacious, flamboyant Queen Marie. Lazy and apathetic, from his teenage years he became known for his romantic misadventures. At the age of twenty-four, second in line to the throne, he abandoned his army post in order to marry a commoner. The marriage was annulled seven months later, though the couple continued to live together; they even had a child the following year. Only a year later, he made a properly dynastic marriage to Princess Helen of Greece. (A second cousin and also a great-grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.) Their only son was born soon after, but the marriage quickly soured, due to Carol's playboy lifestyle, his drinking and womanizing. Then he took up with the infamous Elena Lupescu, who would be his mistress (and finally wife) for the rest of his life, and Helen was finally compelled to divorce him in 1928. Before that, in 1925, because of his relationship with Lupescu, Carol had renounced his right to the throne in favor of his son and had gone to live in Paris with his mistress. Two years later, Carol's father died and his five year old son was proclaimed king. But only three years, later Carol returned to Romania in a coup d'état and took the throne from the boy. Inflicting many petty cruelties on his former wife and alienating his son, indulging in a sybaritic lifestyle, Carol managed to weather the vagaries of Romania politics and the encroachment of Hitler for ten years; it helped that he had a complete lack of scruples. But he was deposed in 1940, and Michael once again became king. Carol and Luspescu went into exile, first in Mexico, then settling permanently in Portugal.

Sketch for the official portrait.
The artist and model.


  1. Looks like the Kaiser's pose was chosen to minimize the look of his injured left arm.

    King Carol's portraits are subtly flattering, in the way the best society portraits are. In the photographs I've seen of him, he looks fleshier and less refined.

    1. "... Fleshier and less refined"; rather aptly describes almost all of Marie of Romania's troublesome offspring! ; )

    2. Indeed - of them all, only Ileana seems to have led an especially laudable life, although I suppose the other two girls weren't bad in comparison to their brothers. but definited fleshy!

  2. Willy is my least favorite German Emperor but the fleshier and less refined comment could describe most of Queen Victoria's progeny. Alix of Hess was rather tubby by the time the Bolshies got to her. Great blog as always.

    1. I can't entirely agree with your thoughts about Queen Victoria's children. Though her two eldest sons were certainly stout, and Princess Beatrice was rather stout-ish, none of them really fit my particular meaning of fleshy: a sort of flabby, droopy, unhealthy sort of large. And I think we need to take our modern prejudices into consideration when we're talking about the physiques of people from the past; the Empress Alexandra was a middle-aged woman, not in the best of health - physically or emotionally - but she was still considered a very handsome woman, and nowhere near what one would call - at least not at that time - "tubby".


  3. Was it Lili Dehn? Or any of her other (very few) loyal ladies in waiting?
    Anyways, all I remember is her comment about Empress Alexandra not long before the Russian Revolution:

    "And then, finally, we saw the Empress approaching: Tall and slender like a lily, she was dressed all in white and holding a parasol..."

    I totally agree with Stephen in his physical description of the Tsarina Alexandra.

    1. I don't remember who it was, either, Maria, but I remember the quote! She was certainly criticized for her noticeable public discomfort/awkwardness, but even her detractors had to admit - sometimes grudgingly - that she was a physically attractive woman.