The Portrait and Story of Mademoiselle Irène Cahen d’Anvers
Irène was born in 1872 and lived in Paris, where she would live at least until she was married. Her father, a wealthy Jewish banker named Louis Raphael Cahen d’Anvers commissioned Pierre Auguste Renoir for three portraits in 1880; one of each of his daughters.
At that time, Renoir had been doing portraits for many of the Jewish families in Paris, and the Cahen family was one of the richest there was. As such, Renoir did not negotiate a price before beginning his work. Upon completing the portrait of Irène, the Cahens decided that they did not like it, and told Renoir to paint Irène’s two younger sisters (Alice and Elisabeth) together. After he finished that portrait, the Lois Cahen paid Renoir a mere 1,500 francs for both paintings (far less than they were truly worth, even at that time), and to add insult to injury, hung them in his servant’s quarters. Renoir was furious.
At the age of 19, Irène married Moïse de Camondo. Moïse was the last of a long line of Jewish bankers from the Ottoman empire, very wealthy in his own right. During their marriage, her portrait by Renoir hung in one of the Camondo’s hotels. Irène and Moïse had two children, Nissim and Béatrice during their short five-year marriage before Irène converted to Catholicism and ran off with the Camondo’s stable man, Count Charles Sampieri in 1896. Irène was able to procure a divorce by giving Moïse full custody of their children, and Irène would marry Charles, becoming the Countess Irène Sampieri. The portrait would go back to Irène’s mother, Louise, during the divorce, and she, in turn, would give it to her granddaughter Béatrice sometime between 1910 and 1933.
Irène’s son (at this point estranged) would go on to become an aviator in the French Army during World War I. He was shot down in a dogfight in 1917, dying of his wounds a few days later. Irène’s daughter Béatrice married Léon Reinach and had two children, Fanny and Bertrand. Moïse died in 1935, with his fortune largely going to his daughter and his mansion and art collection going to a foundation to set up a museum in honor of his son, the Musee Nissim de Comondo.
In 1939, the Nazis invaded France. Like many others, Béatrice and Léon opted to stay in Paris, believing that their wealth and status would protect them. They were wrong, and in 1941 Béatrice, Léon, and their children (along with Irène’s sister Elisabeth) were sent to Auschwitz, where they were all killed. Irène, now separated from Charles was able to save herself by hiding behind her Italian last name and religion. Her other sister, Alice, also survived the Holocaust and lived until 1969 in Nice.
The now very expensive portrait was looted from the Reinach home in 1941 by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce and essentially became the property of Herman Göring, and was potentially going to be used to exchange for other works of art. From here you see some conflicting accounts. Some say the portrait was in Göring’s personal collection. Some say Göring ceded it to a Swiss arms exporter named Emil Georg Bührle. In both cases, they are wrong. In actuality, Göring traded the portrait for a Florentine Tondo to
Gustav Rochlitz in 1942. In 1945, the Allies liberated the portrait, and it was sent to a collection point in Munich. It is likely that the rumors that Bührle had it in his personal collection were due to an attempt to paint him as a villian due to the fact that he exported arms to Germany and Italy on the request of the Swiss government.
Late in 1946, the portrait began traveling in an exhibit with other liberated paintings entitled, “Masterpieces of French collections found in Germany and Switzerland”, where it was seen by Irène. She began lobbying to have it restored to her and ultimately was successful in doing so as it’s last legal possession was that of her daughter, of whom Irène was the inheritor. Bored of it again by 1949, Irène would sell it to Emil Georg Bührle, who was just beginning to stock up on works by French impressionists. Over the next few years, Irène gambled away or otherwise spent the money made on that portrait and the entire Camondo fortune in casinos in southern France by her death in 1963.
After the death of Emil Georg Bührle in 1956, the portrait was eventually given to the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Zurich where it is now on display.
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