Peter Adolf Hall, Treasurer Johan Gottlob Brusell (1756–1829), watercolour and gouache on ivory, 8.3cm x 6.6cm, marked: Hall 1783/5. Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

The Enigmatic Mr Brusell

Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Curator, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

Treasurer Johan Gottlob Brusell, by the Swedish painter Peter Adolf Hall, is one of the most valued portrait miniatures in the Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection. The work is marked with an indistinct signature and the date 1783/5 on the right-hand side.

Paul Sinebrychoff bought the miniature in 1904 from his distant relatives, the Falkman family of Sweden[1]. It had been in the possession of the family for several generations. In his correspondence with Bukowski, Sinebrychoff mentioned that he was fascinated by the miniature and sent a photograph of it for evaluation. Dr. Palm, from the Bukowski auction house, thanked him cordially for the photograph and praised the beauty of the piece, noting that there was a similar painting in a Swedish collection.[2] It has since been discovered that several versions of the miniature were made[3], which begs the question, why so many versions?

When Paul Sinebrychoff bought the miniature, it was presumed to be a portrait of Carl Michael Bellman, Sweden’s national poet, which would explain the numerous versions. The questions of whether the subject is of similar appearance and age as Bellman and whether or not Hall and Bellman ever met, remained unanswered for decades. The truth was not revealed until the early 1900s as the result of research by the Danish art historian Torben Holck Colding[4]. The subject proved to be Johan Gottlob Brusell, as indicated by an inscription discovered on the reverse of a miniature in a collection in Copenhagen. Written in ink, the text read: ‘Kamereraren vid Museum Brusells portrait målad af Hall i Paris’ (‘Portrait of Museum Treasurer Brusell painted by Hall in Paris’). This attribution is confirmed by the fact that Johan Brusell had visited Paris around 1783. There has never been any doubt regarding the artist. The miniature is an example of Peter Adolf Hall’s work at its most typical and is one of his best works.

[1] Carlén 1861. Provenance attributed to the clothing merchant Carl Ahrens 1861 is uncertain.
[2] This was in the collection of the wholesaler Setterwall. The work was kept in the family, and is known to have been in Gothenburg in 1950.
[3] At least seven different works are known.
[4] Colding 1950, 145–50.

Featured image: Peter Adolf Hall, Treasurer Johan Gottlob Brusell (1756–1829), watercolour and gouache on ivory, 8.3cm x 6.6cm, marked: Hall 1783/5. Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Pastel Painting – a Rococo Beauty in the Eyes of a Painter

Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Curator, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

The pastel painting in the Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Art Collection entitled Countess Poaton shows a young woman with her face depicted in a slanting position, slightly inclined towards the right of the viewer. The front of her dress is decorated with a beautiful border of flowers and lace, with a lock of her dark-brown hair hanging freely over it. The hair forms small rosettes as if by chance. On top of the young woman’s white-powdered coiffure is a bouquet of small blue flowers. A blue scarf of the same hue directs the viewer’s gaze. This type of treatment of the subject is typical of portraits by Gustaf Lundberg, who repeated certain elements from one year to another, with only the features of the face altered in a slightly flattering fashion to resemble the subject.

Pastel paintings are at their best when viewed in a slightly subdued light and at a greater distance than usual. In some places the execution of this portrait appears clumsy at close range; the red of the cheeks is clearly striped and the skin around the nose seems exaggeratedly dark. Yet the bodice of the dress is executed with great finesse, showing the almost dream-like delicateness of pastel painting at its best. When the work is put in its presumed contemporary lighting, the viewer is taken by the beauty of the whole painting and the skill of the artist. It is the work of an artist who in an obviously explicit manner left out everything that is superfluous, while achieving his planned goal of a charming pastel painting.

Featured image: Gustaf Lundberg, Countess Poaton (date unknown). Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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