Private collection, United States
Born in the small Bohemian village of Miskowitz in 1849, Antonietta Brandeis lost her father at an early age, and probably then moved north to Prague with her widowed mother. At some point in the 1860s, she began studying painting with the Czech artist Karel Javurek (1815-1909). Although nothing is known about the Brandeis family finances during this period, it would have been unusual for a bourgeois young woman to study painting in any serious fashion; this suggests that perhaps Antonietta’s mother was hoping to provide a marketable skill for her daughter in the world of fine art.
Brandeis studied with Javurek for a brief period, undoubtedly learning the basics of academic painting. It is likely that he also introduced her to the artistic ideas then current in Belgium and France, having studied himself with Gustave Wappers at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and with Thomas Couture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This exposure to European Romanticism and Realism would have offered the young Brandeis an unusually sophisticated understanding of contemporary aesthetic issues.
In the late 1860s, Brandeis left Prague and moved to Venice with her mother, who had married a Venetian gentleman. Once there, she enrolled in the Accademia di belle arti (Academy of Fine Arts) studying with Michalangelo Grigoletti, Domenico Bresolin, Napoleone Nani, and Pompeo Marino Molmenti, all of whom were mainstream academic painters. She graduated in 1872 with a number of honors to her credit, and a Premio award in landscape painting. The admission of women to officially sponsored fine arts academies in Europe and the US was rare in the 1870s, and enrollment in life classes where nude models posed was almost universally unacceptable for female students.
After graduation, Brandeis began to establish a career as a landscape painter in Venice. In 1873, she showed four paintings at the annual November exposition at the Accademia; these included one portrait, two landscapes, and one vedute of the Grand Canal that was commissioned by an English woman.
Over the next few decades, Brandeis seems to have exhibited regularly at the annual Accademia shows, but her primary focus was increasingly on the painting of Venetian scenes (vedute) that appealed to the always plentiful crowd of visitors to Venice. She specialized in relatively small scale paintings of landmarks in her adopted city, and gradually became part of a community of emigrant artists who shared this interest. Among her friends were the Peruvian artist Federico de Campo and many of the Spanish artists then living in Venice such as Mariano Fortuny, Martin Rico and Rafael Senet. It should be noted too that by the end of the nineteenth century, Venice had become a regular stop for any painter who was particularly fascinated with color and light.
More important for painters like Brandeis were the travellers who came as tourists and wanted a souvenir to take home with them. By the late nineteenth century the aristocratic tradition of the Grand Tour had been considerably democratized by the industrial revolution, which had not only created a newly wealthy merchant class, but had provided the railroad as a means of convenient travel across long distances. Venice was no longer the exotic province of the European aristocracy, but a city that lured bourgeois romantics from all over the world. Brandeis’s images of the city were especially popular with Austrian and English visitors.
The full story of Antonietta Brandeis’s life remains unknown, but she seems to have been a woman who challenged social conventions on many levels: as a woman studying in an almost exclusively male academy; as a Bohemian-born woman of Jewish heritage working in a Catholic world; and as an ex-patriot female artist finding friendship among the decidedly patriarchal arts colony of Spanish painters in Venice. Almost nothing is known of the last two decades of her life except that she died in Venice just short of her 70th birthday in 1920.
If the artwork is up to £25,00 in value, and the artist is still alive, Trinity House can arrange a 0% interest loan through the Own Art scheme. Own Art is a Creative United initiative supported by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Some other restrictions apply see…