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, July 15, 2018

The Wertheimer portraits - twelve paintings by John Singer Sargent

Betty and Ena Wertheimer, 1901.

Asher Wertheimer was a well-known and highly-respected London art dealer. He was the son of a self-made German Jew who had himself become a prominent London art dealer; the Wertheimer family traced its ancestry back to the court Jews of central Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in particular to Samson Wertheimer, who was in the service of Emperor Leopold I. Asher's wife, Flora, was also the daughter of a London art dealer. The couple and their family - they had ten surviving children - enjoyed a long and cordial friendship with John Singer Sargent, who apparently dined weekly with the family at their Connaught Place residence; their dining room, which housed eight of the twelve portraits, was affectionately dubbed "Sargent's mess."

Asher Wertheimer (last quarter of 1843, London - 9 August 1918, Eastbourne, Sussex), 1898. His companion here is his poodle, Noble.

The first two portraits were commissioned to celebrate the couple's silver wedding anniversary in 1898. The portrait of Asher Wertheimer was universally acclaimed when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy. However, the portrait of his wife did not find favor with its subject; a second version was painted six years later which did win Mrs. Wertheimer's approval. By this time, the first two pictures had evolved into what was eventually a series of twelve. During the decade he was working at the ever expanding commission, Sargent joked that he kept finding himself in a state of "chronic Wertheimerism."

Flora Wertheimer née Joseph (circa 1846, London - 5 December 1922, London), 1898.

The contemporary response to Sargent's work ranged from laudatory to damning At least as polarizing was his subject matter; many of his sitters - and often good friends - were wealthy Jews. Early twentieth-century English society was grudgingly beginning to accept the richest members of the Jewish faith into its midst, but the old prejudices persisted. The aristocratic gloss Sargent gave to all his portrait work probably had much to do with Wertheimer's initial commission. The art dealer worked with many wealthy collectors and traded in extraordinary examples of French eighteenth century furniture, paintings by European masters and, in particular, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English portraits, all these exactly the models and inspiration for Sargent's stunning response to and reinterpretation of portraiture in the European "Grand Manner".

Flora Wertheimer, 1904.

Two years before his death, Asher Wertheimer announced his intention to bequeath nine of the portraits to the British nation. After his widow's death in 1922, the pictures were delivered to London's National Gallery and, soon after, they were transferred to the newly constructed Tate Gallery of British Art.

Edward Wertheimer, 1902.

Edward M. Wertheimer (22 July 1873 at 21, London - 2 January 1903, Paris). A linguist and musician, the eldest Wertheimer son was the only one of the four boys who showed an interest in their father's business. He married May George Levy in 1902 and died at the age of only twenty-nine, while in France "on his honeymoon, after eating a bad oyster." This portrait was left unfinished at the time of the sitter's death.

Ena Wertheimer, 1905. 

Helena "Ena" Wertheimer (27 September 1874, London - 24 March 1936, Marylebone, Middlesex). She married Robert Moritz Mathias in 1905. Painted as wedding present from her father, the energetic sitter - an artist, herself, and later part of the Bloomsbury Circle - jokingly complained about how long Sargent took with her portrait, and the pose here is the artist's charmed response; Sargent dubbed the portrait A Vele Gonfie, an Italian phrase that translates into English as "in full sail".

Alfred Wertheimer, circa 1901, signed 1902.

Alfred Wertheimer (8 August 1876, London - 18 September 1902, Johannesburg, South Africa).  The Wertheimer's second son was studying to be a chemist before his premature death at the age of barely twenty-six in the Boer War in South Africa; chemist's flasks are featured in the background.

Betty Wertheimer, 1908.

Elizabeth "Betty" Wertheimer (16 August 1877, London - 15 July 1953, Ripley, Surrey). She married Euston Abraham Salaman in 1899. He died in 1916, and the following year she married Arthur Ricketts.

Hylda Wertheimer, 1901.

Hylda Wertheimer (4 November 1878, London - 9 April 1938, London). She married Henry Wilson Young by special license in 1905.

Hylda Wertheimer. (Detail of below.)
Hylda, Conway, and Almina Wertheimer, 1905. (This image was obviously taken while the painting was in the process of cleaning/restoration.)

Conway Wertheimer (22 September 1881, London - 2 November 1953, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire). A barrister-at-law by profession, he married Joan Cicely Young in 1917.

Almina Wertheimer, 1908. She is dressed in "Oriental" costume.

Almina Wertheimer (21 November 1886, London - 31 July 1928, Marylebone, Middlesex). She married Antonio Pandrelli Fachiri in 1915.

Ruby, Ferdinand, and Essie Wertheimer, 1902.

Essie Wertheimer (10 June 1880, London - 6 May 1933, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire). She married Eustace Henry Wilding by special license in 1905.

Ferdinand Joseph Wertheimer (19 January 1888, London - 1 April 1950, Camberley, Surrey. An artist by profession.

Ruby Wertheimer (8 March 1889, London - 3 December 1941, San Severino Marche, Macerata, Italy). She reputedly died in an Italian internment camp during World War II.


Coda: a watercolor portrait of Betty Wertheimer, taken during her marriage to Euston Salaman, 1910.


  1. No wonder John Singer Sargent loved working with, and socialising with the Wertheimers. Fortunately Asher Wertheimer bequeathed a lot of these fantastic portraits to London's National Gallery in 1922.

    I wonder if the British Wertheimers were related to the French Wertheimers. In 1924, businessmen Paul (1883-1948) and his brother Pierre (1888–1965) Wertheimer became Coco Chanel's partners in the House of Chanel perfume business. They saved her empire! And the brothers' dates coincide well with Asher Wertheimer's.

    1. I don't know, but I think if they were related it would have to be a distant connection. Paul and Pierre Wertheimer's family was French, while Asher Wertheimer's father was German.

      Just reading again about Chanel's very unpleasant relationship with the French Wertheimers. How she only ended up with ten percent stock in Chanel No. 5, and then fought them for control for decades. And how she tried in the dark days of WWII to retake control, petitioning the occupying Germans, taking advantage of the fact that the Wertheimers were Jews. I suppose she really did deserve a bigger cut, but I'm really quite glad that they had the first move on her and safeguarded their legal rights. Dirty business on her part; she was a genius, but NOT a nice person.

  2. There were New York Wertheimers as well; they owned an eponymous department store the last few branches of which straggled into the late 20th century.