LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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BERNHARD ÖSTERMAN (Vingåker, Sweden 1870 – Stockholm 1938)

Temptation

signed Bernhard – Österman in the lower left

oil on canvas

71 1/8 x 55 1/8 inches        (180.8 x 140.2 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Acquired from the artist by

Private Collection, United States, 1928

Jeane Dixon, Washington, D.C., until 1997

Jeane Dixon Museum and Library, Strasburg, Virginia, 2002-2009

 

LITERATURE

Cristian Brinton, Portraits by Bernhard Österman, R.A.A.S., exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., January 10-24, 1928, unpaginated, no. 14

“The Österman Collection” in Report on the National Gallery of Art Including the Freer Gallery of Art for the Year Ended June 30, 1928, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1928, p. 55

 

EXHIBITED

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Portraits by Bernhard Österman, R.A.A.S., January 10-24, 1928, no. 14

 

Two of the artist’s oil sketches for this painting are in the collection of the Sörmlands Museum, Nyköping, Sweden.

 

Bernhard Österman has placed the scene for Temptation on a porch of a ridotto in Venice.  The ridottos were meeting places often close to theaters where all levels of Venetian society mixed.  Many varied forms of entertainment were on offer including gambling, but they were best known as places for illicit amorous liaisons as well as ideal locations for seductions.  Most visitors wore masks.  Our scene set on an open porch is lit by globular lanterns that echo the brilliant sheen of our protagonist’s dress.  Over her golden gown a battua made of black patterned lace hangs from a tricorn hat which covers her neck intentionally framing her face.  Her accessories of a fan and black velvet mask complete the image of a Venetian noblewoman.  Her beauty and splendor of dress are paralleled by the richly carved and gilded brocade covered sofa on which she sits, the vision of a celestial being.  Her paramour on the other hand remains in the shadows still masked, cloaked and wearing a bicorn hat, the clothes traditionally worn in the ridottos for the anonymity they provided.  The contrast of these two figures further adds to the mystery of the scene.  Nighttime Venice sparkles in the background with a singular gondola passing through the lagoon while a multitude of lights from another island cast reflections across the water.  We sense a dramatic decision has taken place between our pair of would-be lovers but Österman has left the resolution to the viewer.  Both the titling and the young lady’s next move are purposely ambiguous.  Does the removal of her mask suggest acquiescence or rejection and an end to the charade?  The mystery is enhanced by the conclusion forever being unknown.

Bernhard Österman’s work rarely appears on the art market.  He and his twin brother Karl Emil were primarily portraitists famous as superb colorists.  Bernhard first studied at the Royal College of Fine Arts in Stockholm later becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Sweden. He was an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he exhibited portraits in 1912 and 1913.  He also became an officer in the Legion d’honneur.  His works were exhibited in Stockholm, Paris, Berlin where he won a gold medal, London and Washington, D.C..  Portraits by the artist tended to feature the celebrities of his time ranging from royalty to intellectuals.  King Oscar II of Sweden, King Alfonso XII and Queen Ena of Spain, Princess Astrid of Belgium, the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, the French poet Albert Merat and Jonas Lie the Norwegian writer (now in the Göteborgs Konstmuseum) are among his notable sitters.  In 1933 Bernhard became the director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Sweden.  The largest collection of his works are in the Sörmlands museum.    His studio has been recreated at Säfstaholm Castle, Vingäker where a number of his works are on display. [1]

Jeane Dixon (1904-1997) was the most celebrated psychic of the twentieth century.  She is best known for predicting John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, documented by an article that appeared in Parade Magazine on May 13, 1956.  A biographical book by syndicated columnist Ruth Montgomery on Dixon titled A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon sold three million copies at the time of its publication in 1965, and catapulted her into the international limelight.  She became a regular visitor on the television talk-show circuit as well as a nationally syndicated columnist.  She wrote seven books including the best-seller My Life and Prophecies in 1969.  She was consulted by President Richard Nixon who once ordered preparations for a terrorist attack based on her predictions. [2]  She also advised Nancy Reagan during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.  After her death, Leo Bernstein, a well-known Washington, D.C. banker and investor who had served as Dixon’s longtime business adviser, opened the Jeane Dixon Museum and Library as a tribute to his celebrated psychic friend.  The museum housed Dixon’s collection of antiques and paintings, documents, memorabilia and personal effects from her townhouse which was on 19th Street in Washington, D.C..  The museum closed shortly after the death of Leo Bernstein in 2009.

We are extremely grateful to Gudrun Anselm, Senior Curator of the Sörmlands Museum for her assistance in assembling biographical information on Bernhard Österman.

 

 

[1] Biographical information taken from “Studio Talk – Stockholm”, The Studio, volume 30, London, 1904, pp. 70-76; Cristian Brinton, op. cit., unpaginated; Galerie Trotti, Paris, Portraits par Bernhard Österman A.R.S., October 14-31, 1931, unpaginated; E. Benezit,, “Bernhard Osterman” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, volume 8, Libraire Gründ, 1976, p. 50; written communication from Barbro Ahlfort, senior curator Göteborgs Konstmuseum dated Göteborg, September 24, 2009; and written communication from Gudrun Anselm, senior curator, Sörmlands Museum dated September 29, 2009.

[2] Michael Isikoff & Mark Hosenball, “Terror Watch: President Nixon’s Secret Psychic Adviser” in Newsweek Magazine, March 23, 2005.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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