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Ludwig Gottlieb Portman after a drawing by George Nikolaus Ritter
Portrait of Ritter’s daughter, Louise Charlotte de Neufville – Ritter
Engraving (book illustration) on paper : 187 X 117 mm
Signed by the engraver, the publisher (P.J. Uylenbroek) and the draughtsman
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
 
 

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Painting for Sale
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Neufville, Pierre de
"Portrait of the painter’s wife, Louise-Charlotte Ritter, as an ancient Egyptian harp player"
In short
 
This is the only painting known by Pierre de Neufville, a Dutch civil servant, who had married a well-known musician – miniature artist. 
Our painting should be dated between 1823 and 1844. De Neufville has portrayed in a rather daring way his own wife as a harp player in an ancient Egyptian setting, inspired by publications of the very first discoveries made in Egypt.
Even the design of the vulture goddess Nekhbet at the top of the frame was inspired by a publication of the great Giovanni Battista Belzoni, an archaeologist-avant-la-lettre whose modus operandi would even have made Indiana Jones blush with modesty.
 
About Pierre de Neufville
 
Dutch civil servant
1762 – 1844
 
Also known as Pieter Pietersz. de Neufville. 
 
His family was originally of French origin: Balthasar de Neufville left France during the second half of the 17th century. In 1685 King Louis XIV renounced the famous Edict of Nantes (signed in 1598 by King Henry IV) that had granted the Calvinist Protestants of France substantial rights. Because of this Edict of Fontainebleau many Protestants fled France, a fair number of them to the Dutch Republic.
 
Our painter married in March 1801 with Louise-Charlotte Ritter (1779 – 1859), the daughter and pupil of the miniaturist George Nikolaus Ritter (1749 – 1809), who was of German origin. She was herself a gifted musician (she played piano and also harp). But, typical of the position of women in the first half of the 19th century, she would remain a dilettante, that is a performer who would not be paid for her concerts. That is why she stopped performing and turned to a new activity, that of painter-miniaturist. 
 
The couple lived in Amsterdam, then in the early 1820s in Brussels and finally in The Hague.
Louise-Charlotte gave, while living in Brussels, one of her miniatures as a present to Tsar Alexander I (1777 – 1825), during his visit to his sister, Anna Pavlovna, wife of the future Dutch King William II. The princess preferred living in Brussels (present-day Belgium and the former Dutch Republic formed between 1815 and 1830 the United Kingdom of the Netherlands) rather than in Amsterdam or The Hague.
 
Pierre de Neufville was during a few years active as commander of the house of correction near Antwerp in Hemiksem.
 
About our painting
 
This is the only painting known by Pierre de Neufville, who obviously was a talented amateur painter, who must have learned painting from his wife.
 
He made here a rather daring portrait of his wife in a transparent dress as an ancient Egyptian harp player. Louise-Charlotte Ritter was a gifted musician who did indeed also play harp. She was seventeen years younger than her husband. The couple married in 1801 and Pierre de Neufville died in 1844.
 
Our canvas sits in its magnificent, original frame, decorated with Egyptian motifs. At the top one recognizes the stylised representation of the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, Nekhbet.
 
The actual drawing of Nekhbet was inspired by a watercolour painted most probably by Alessandro Ricci (1792 – 1834). In 1818 Ricci had joined Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778 – 1823) in the Valley of the Kings, where Belzoni had discovered the previous year the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I. Both men made detailed studies in watercolour of the texts, reliefs and frescoes in this longest tomb (137 m.) ever discovered in the Valley. Most of the studies were made by Ricci. These paintings were used to produce a scale model of the tomb, exhibited in London in 1821. Over 300 of these watercolours are since 1900 part of the collection of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
Belzoni described the discovery of Seti’s tomb one year earlier in 1820 in his “Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia; and of a journey to the coast of the Red Sea, in search of the ancient Berenice, and of another to the oasis of Jupiter Ammon”. 
In 1823 a Dutch version was published.
 
Another, even more important publication,that must also have inspired our painter was the “Description de l’Egypte”. In its 23 volumes published between 1809 and 1828 French scientists and artists, who had accompanied in 1798 Napoleon Bonaporte, described the country and its treasures. In its second volume about the antiquities were engravings from a tomb discovered already in the 18th century by the Englishman John Bruce. The so-called Room of the Harps, in what later proved to be the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses III, were of particular interest to one of the paricipants of the expedition. The French musicologist and specialist in musical instruments Guillaume-André Villotteau must therefore have requested that these plates should be incorporated in the publication, as the instruments were comparable to those used in contemporary Europe. 
 
In the central background of our painting one discovers a group of so-called Ushabti. These faience funerary servant figurines usually carry a text with the name of the deceased. This text says that the ushabti will respond to any order given in the underworld by the gods to the owner of the grave to execute any work or manual labour. Egyptian graves held many ushabti: the deceased wanted to be sure of a stressless afterlife.
 
Nineteenth century Europe has very rapidly had a profound interest in Ancient Egypt, not the least its Freemasons. The mystery of the Egyptian culture, but also its significant meaning in architecture, mathematics, art and writing, plus of course the fact that it is not linked to Catholic or Protestant art or architecture, turned it into a new form of inspiration. In 1794 our painter became a member of the Freemason’s Lodge of Rotterdam. Many 19th century Freemasons’ Temples were decorated in an Egyptian style.
 
Why shoud you buy this painting?
 
Because it testifies of the early interest in Ancient Egypt in the first half of the 19th century in Europe, triggered by the “Description de l’Egypte” and the discoveries of Belzoni. 
 
Because it also testifies of the love of a husband for his musician-wife whom he portrayed as an ancient Egyptian harp player.
 
Because it is a great painting in a fabulously decorated gesso frame.
 
 
 
 
 
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