Joseph van Lerius

Young Girl from the Hotzenwald, 1852

About the object

The shy, sideways look of the young woman dressed in traditional Hotzenwälder folk costume reveals that having one’s portrait painted is an unpleasant experience. The material texture of the clothes is rendered most skilfully. Her face, arms and hands are softly out of focus, which lends her overall demeanour a certain tenderness in keeping with her youth.
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The Belgian artist Joseph van Lerius frequently traveled to Austria, Germany, and Italy, painting the landscape and portraying the local people. Today van Lerius is known above all as a portrait painter, and this picture of a young woman from the Hotzenwald was made during one of his journeys to the Black Forest. The Hotzenwald is a region in the southernmost Black Forest; its traditional dress is well known beyond its borders even today and is worn by the woman in this portrait. Van Lerius depicted the young woman seated in a meadow. She looks shyly to one side, as if she were uneasy sitting for a portrait. The slight blurring of her facial features lends her appearance a delicate, vulnerable quality in keeping with her youth. She wears a red bodice adorned with a standing collar and embroidered flowers. In the Hotzenwald, colorful bodices were worn above all by young women, while older women clothed themselves in black or dark colors. White puffed linen sleeves emerge from the bodice on either side, and the young woman’s head is crowned by a black bonnet. Her long hair is braided and falls down her back. The various fabric textures are skillfully rendered by van Lerius. Here and in other portraits, he was probably inspired by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, the greatest portrait painter of the time who was especially talented in the depiction of fabrics. Winterhalter’s models also frequently held roses, and here too the young Black Forest woman holds a rose in the fingers of her right hand. Although her pose seems somewhat unnatural, this accessory still lends the portrait a certain elegance and ease. It seems almost as if the artist were seeking to create a “fashionable portrait” of a young farmer’s daughter. MIRJA STRAUB (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)

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