Manteau de la Vierge
Department of Art after 1800
Having learnt the basics of his craft in his father’s carpentry shop, painting company signboards and the prows of ships, Johann Baptist Reiter studied at the Academy in Vienna, where he was taught by Leopold Kupelwieser and Thomas Ender. His talent was soon recognised, so when he was forced to abandon his studies for financial reasons, one of his teachers helped him to obtain a grant. At the start of his career he concentrated mainly on biblical scenes, but his focus turned increasingly towards the lives of ordinary people. He achieved success as a young man, and his portraits and genre pieces made him the defining painter of the Viennese Biedermeier. He grabbed people’s attention by devising surprisingly innovative compositions and coming up with new themes as the subject matter for his paintings. One showed Louise Aston, a symbol of the emancipated woman, painted with short hair and dressed in men’s clothes, smoking a cigar (ca. 1847, Schlossmuseum Linz, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum). The portraits he produced in the second half of the 1840s and around the year 1850 are among his best works, while his pictures of children stand out for their extraordinary atmospheric appeal.
The painting entitled The Little Jewellery Dealer is one of Reiter’s most magical child portraits. It was executed in 1850 and became part of the public collection in Budapest in 1871, during the artist’s lifetime, thanks to the bequest of Mihály Erny. The young girl, shown in three-quarter profile, is standing at a table holding up a polished gemstone – perhaps a piece of rock crystal – to the light, gazing in wonder at its sparkling brilliance. She rests her other hand on the table, where various coloured jewels of different sizes lie beside a half-opened box. The flashes of light glinting on the polished stone and on the girl’s lips and eyes contrast sharply with the dark shadows. Among the brownish tones, touches of pale red appear on the girl’s mouth, her coral necklace and the pattern of her gently draping scarf. It is worth noting the rare square format and the close perspective of this painting. Though the identity of the model is unknown, she was also immortalised in another painting by the artist, entitled Children Playing with Cherries (1850, private collection).
This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.