The Neimeijer Archive pt.2: notes on a portrait

The Neimeijer archival boxes contain mainly excerpts from auction catalogues. The works of art documented, belong to any age and are realized with any technique, from painting to print, from drawing to sculpture.

Today, while working on files with men and women at the keyboard, I run into this portrait attributed to Giuseppe Bonito (1705-1789), auctioned on 12th October 1989 at Christie’s New York (lot. 63). Indeed, it was collected among the Vrouw[en] aan Klavier, thus Ladies at keyboards.


In the catalogue record the painting is so described:

63. Attributed to GIUSEPPE BONITO
Portrait of a lady, three-quarter length, seated at a spinet
oil on canvas (87,5*70 cm.)

Robert B. Meyer, Chicago

Rather than a “general” lady, this woman is very well known.

She is Anna Antonia Cristina Somis (1704-1785), wife of the painter Carle van Loo (1705-1765), sister of Giovanni Battista (1688-1775) and daughter of Francesco Lorenzo Somis (1662–1736). In fact the Bonito portrait is an almost exact copy after the extremely charming family portrait while making music, with her father and brother, by Swidish artist Martin van Meytens the Younger (1695-1770). This painting formerly belonged to the collection of the Finchcocks Musical Museum that was auctioned in 2016.

M.v.Meytens, Anne Antonia Christina Somis seated playing at a harpsichord, with her father Francesco Lorenzo Somis playing the cello, and her brother Giovanni Lorenzo Somis playing the violin, Oil on canvas, 102 x 78 cm.

Even if somewhat rougher and thicker, the brushstrokes in Bonito’s painting are rather precise, especially in copying the textures of the fabrics. Slightly less successfull is the face which in Meytens canvas shines of a beautiful opalescent light, evidence of Anna’s youthful age. Her hands on the instrument are also much more refined in the Swedish version. The young woman’s gaze, while playing with her father and brother, inspire innocence and contentment. After all she is having fun with her family!

Interestingly, the tones in the other painting do serve to give the painting a different allure, creating a naughty atmosphere. The woman is alone, emerging from the dark background with a twinkly wide neckline, looking at the beholder with somewhat embarrassed red cheeks and voluptuous red lips. […]

Carle van Loo, Portrait of Cristina Somis, red chalk, 460 x 374 mm

And this on the left is a portrait of love: Carle van Loo made this beautiful profile chalk drawing of his wife, from after 1733, when they got married. Her eyes and her lips, turned slightly upwards, closely resemble her features in the painting.

An old label written in pen and pink ink and attached to the backing below the drawing reads as follows:
Mme Van loo/ née Sommis, soeur du célebre musicien de ce nom, elle même-/célebre Musicienne, qui a eté l’objet de l’admiration de tous-/les gens de goût pour (les) graces de son chant dans les concerts./Epouse de Carle Vanloo, originaire d’une famille noble de flandre, Chevalier/Romain et de l’ordre de S M…1er peintre du Roi de france, mort à Paris…/a l’age de 61.
Van Loo married Christina Antonia Somis in 1733, while he was living in Turin and in the service of Charles-Emanuel III, Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia. She was a celebrated opera singer. They returned to Paris in 1734 where he quickly achieved success. This drawing, although unusually large, is characteristic of his portrait drawings. [Sotheby’s, London, 4.07.2007, lot. 139]

Carle van Loo Portrait of Cristina Somis, pastel, Torino, Galleria Sabauda (?)

Yet, my favourite portrait of her dates from later. Once again she was portrayed by her husband. The pleasing smile is still there.


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