Title: Madame Franziska, Louise, Emilie, Malvina Schiff (1850-1931)
Dimensions: 24 3/4 x 19 in. (62.9 x 48.3 cm)
Marks: Signed upper left corner. Possible signature E Suderitz (difficult to make out in old German script)
Credit Line: Gift of Edith D. and Torsten E. Lagerstrom. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University.
Prior to the development of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, portraits were painted and common only among people of wealth and high social status. Torsten Lagerstrom's paternal and maternal families were from British, Swedish and German aristocracy. These portraits portray Consul and Madame Schiff, the maternal grandparents of Torsten, painted during their service in the court of Kaiser Wilhelm I in Berlin.
The portrait setting is plain, and the subjects are deliberately posed, wearing formal costumes. The mood is contained- almost somber- and stereotypical of Germanic culture. By selecting a plain background, the artist focuses full attention on the sitters and the viewer's eye is drawn to illuminated pearl necklaces and buttons. Madame Schiff’s facial expression suggests an enigmatic shyness, but her eyes, although averted, encourage the viewer's gaze. In contrast, the Consul's stoic stare and rigid body position keep the viewer at bay, withholding all emotions but exuding self- confidence.