The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Great-uncle Carl Bernstorff - A Child Portrait by Jens Juel

  • Ellen Poulsen, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 1989
  • This is a re-publication of the summary of the article: Ellen Poulsen: ‘Great-uncle Carl Bernstorff – A Child Portrait by Jens Juel’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1989, p. 36-41.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

An unknown child portrait inscribed “Juel pinxit 1789” was bequeathed to the Royal Danish Embassy in London in 1981 by Mrs. Inga Prowse, whose grandmother was a Bernstorff. A note on the inside frame written by the latter revealed that it depicted “Grossonkel Carl Bernstorff jiingster Sohne von Andreas Peter” , born 1788, who died at Bernstorff Manor on 21 June, 1792, to the unspeakable sorrow of his mother Augusta Bernstorff (fig. 1). The only hitherto known portrait of this child was a miniature by Cornelius Høyer depicting a child with large eyes and fine features, holding a dove and a palm branch to signify death (fig. 2). On the basis of a letter from his half-sister Louise Bernstorff, we are now able to say that the miniature with its angelic attributes was painted after a pastel portrait by Juel on 22 June, 1792, the day after the boy’s death (fig. 3)- On 23 June, Louise wrote to her brother Christian Gunther Bernstorff: “ … Donnerstag Nachmittag hat Gott seinen Leiden ein Ende gemacht … Denk welch unbeschreibliches Glück, noch denselben Abend schickt Mama zum Mahler Juel, so dass er früh den anderen Morgen ihn abmahle, theils nach der Leiche und theils nach dem was ihm gesagt wurde, und es ist sehr, selir ähnlich geworden, das ist ein unendlicher Trost fur meine Mutter …”

Augusta Bernstorff, known as “Gustgen” , belonged like her brothers, the poets Fritz and Christian Stolberg, to the circle around Klopstock, and became through them acquainted with the greatlyadmired Goethe, whose Werther she knew by heart already in 1774 (figs. 4 and 5). It became a lengthy correspondence. Goethe’s moving confessions are preserved, and were published for the first time in 1839 by August von Binzer, whose wife had inherited them. Of hers, only the one from 22 October, 1822, has been preserved, in which she recalls the child, so long dead: “Er gewann den Himmel, nur mir ward der unsägliche Schmerz zum Theil.”

Last updated 11.05.2017