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Oil painting purchased for Beethoven Haus: How the most famous Beethoven portrait came to Bonn

Oil painting purchased for Beethoven Haus : How the most famous Beethoven portrait came to Bonn

Hardly anybody in Bonn has not seen what is probably the most famous portrait of Beethoven. It is captured on brochures, posters and souvenirs. Thanks to a banker, the oil painting made its way to Bonn.

There is scarcely a person in Bonn who has never seen it before - on countless brochures, posters, souvenirs and last but not least, a slightly altered version on Andy Warhol posters. The Beethoven portrait from the artist Joseph Stieler has long become the most famous picture of the composer. And it is in Bonn.

The banker and patron of the arts Hermann Josef Abs bought it in November 1980 for the Beethoven Haus, where it has been on display ever since. The city of Bonn contributed one third of the costs, but it is still unclear what Abs paid for it. It is a fact that the oil painting, created in 1820, was offered at an auction in the U.S. for the equivalent of 519,000 marks.

Countess Sauerma offered the painting to the Beethoven Haus as early as 1907. The sale fell through, and the portrait, for which Beethoven himself had sat as a model, went to Henri Hinrichsen. During the Nazi era Hinrichsen was persecuted, expropriated and murdered because of his Jewish descent. The Beethoven picture went to the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig. After the Second World War, the painting was returned to Hinrichsen's heirs. It landed in Chicago.

We know from Beethoven's records of conversation that Stieler was allowed four sessions with him between February and April 1820. A real privilege. The clients were Franz and Antonie von Brentano, whom the maestro once called "the best friends in the world". Joseph Stieler (1781-1858) himself is famous for the Schönheiten-Galerie (Gallery of Beauty) in Schloss Nymphenburg, the state portraits of the Bavarian kings Maximilian I. Joseph and Ludwig I., his portraits of poets and scholars such as Goethe, Schiller and von Humboldt.

Orig. text: Bernd Linnarz

Translation: ck