Completed Continental European after 1800, Dress and Textiles 32 Can anyone tell us more about the sitter in this portrait and suggest a possible artist?

Matilda Eiler
Topic: Artist

This painting was previously attributed to Ary Scheffer by the vendor’s family, but is now thought to be by a Danish artist. Perhaps the sitter was Danish? It looks to be of good quality.

Andrew Shore, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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Jacinto Regalado,

Well, based on the hair, it would appear to be c. 1860.

Jacinto Regalado,

I am not a fashion expert, Cath, but maybe Lou Taylor could address the matter for the sake of greater precision.

Kieran Owens,

Is there any background information as to why the Ashmolean purchased this work in 1998? Did the name Matilda Eiler mean anything to them, or was it because of the Ary Scheffer attribution?

The portrait, having been "passed down through the vendor's family" would appear, according to the 'The Ashmolean Museum: Complete Illustrated Catalogue' (2004), to have been purchased from a Mrs. Jette Zerega. Other than a reference to a Bob and Jette Zerega meeting with wildlife photographer and film-maker Warren Garst (1922 - 2016) in Nairobi in 1975, little or nothing can be found about her online, or about the sitter either.

Jacinto Regalado,

The surname Eiler is of German origin but occurs in Denmark, where it has a higher incidence than in other Scandinavian countries (no doubt because of Denmark's greater proximity to Germany).

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Monies is certainly worth considering. As for the date, it may be 1850s, but Lou Taylor is best suited to address that issue.

Martin Hopkinson,

It could be 1840s see the costume in
Richard Buckner's Saltram 1843 Harriet Parker, Countess of Morley

Jacinto Regalado,

One assumes, of course, that there's no signature of any kind and that there's nothing potentially useful on the back of the picture. Is that so?

Jimaa Alaa,

She looks like the Russian stage actor Lyubov Ivanovna Mlotkovskaya (1804-1866). There is a portrait painting of her in 1830s. Samara Art Museum.

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

This is not easy to try and date- from clothes/appearance. My guess is c 1857-62 based on the hairstyle with central parting smoothed into chignon at the back of her head, just covering her ears. By mid 60s ears were uncovered... The large size of earrings and brooch with maybe an oval opal stone also suggests, albeit vaguely, these dates. The use of a decorative collar and ribbon tie was common from 1840s through the 1860s. It looks as if she is wearing a black, maybe silk satin, loose jacket or cape with a large cape fringed collar but this is not too helpful. …. Best I can do - see attachments to confirm.

Angela Lennox,

Just looking at the ribbon around the ladies neck - the ends are frayed which means the ribbon came from a longer length. Wealthy women could have a silk ribbon hand made of a specific length which would be finished at either end with the same running finish as along the sides of the ribbon.
In 1886 a method for making silk ribbons was designed and in 1889 displayed at the world fair using a jacquard loom based on 8 needles. The exhibitor had created a copy of the book of prayer of woven silk using the loom and intricate patterns could be made. People across the world ordered lengths of this ribbon in black on white or red on white (Red = protestant, Black = catholic) and displayed them.
This piece of ribbon looks to be of the same design however thousands were sold and were used to decorate many bonnets and dresses, bringing ribbons into affordable fashion. Many lengths of the ribbons were sent as gifts to servants etc which I know does not help with the name of the sitter or artist.

Kieran, I have asked the Collections Manager your question if there is any background information relating to the purchase in 1998.
Jacinto, I have asked also if the Collection can confirm that there's no signature or anything potentially useful on the back of the picture. David

Marcie Doran,

Possibly the sitter was Mathilde Fibiger (1830 – 1872) who was, according to Wikipedia, “a Danish feminist, novelist, and telegraphist”. She seems to be wearing a similar brooch in the photo attributed to Thora Hallager on Wikipedia.

Here is a photo of her with the same hairstyle in the collection of the Gender Museum, Aarhus, Denmark.

Jacinto Regalado,

Marcie, our sitter has a plumper face, larger eyebrows, and a larger upper lip. To me, the match is not good enough.

Marcie Doran,

I support Richard Green’s view that this might be a work by the Danish painter David H. Monies. My composite, attached, is based on this painting and a Monies work from 1853 on the Invaluable website with a German title that I have Google-translated as “Biedermeier portrait of a young woman in a black dress with lace collar”.

Note the similar poses, hair, mouths, eyes and jackets/capes with lace collars. It is difficult to make out, but where ‘our’ sitter’s cape meets the right edge of the work, there is a darker black band of satin, much like the darker band of satin in the second portrait.

Note, too, that the earrings worn by ‘our’ sitter are similar to the one in a Monies portrait that Richard had mentioned above, on Artnet, Google-translated as: “Portrait of actress at the Royal Theater Erhardine Adolphine Hansen b. Rantzau”.

There is a Wikipedia entry on Erhardine Adolphine Hansen (née Rantzau) (1815 - 1893) here: I have also located her in Denmark’s 1880 Census (as Erhardine Adolphine Rantzau) living in Copenhagen with her husband and children.

Since she married Jørgen Christian Hansen on May 4, 1836, and her married name is in the title of her portrait, it could not date from earlier than 1836. In Denmark’s 1845 Census, David Monies is described as a “Portrætmaler” (portrait painter) and he and his family also live in Copenhagen. Therefore, I would expect that ‘our’ sitter should be in the Census for Copenhagen sometime in the period 1835 - 1855.

David, I am wondering if the name was actually inscribed somewhere on the portrait as “Matilda Eiler” since I would have expected the spelling to be Danish - “Mathilde Eiler”. I have been searching the Census for Denmark (you must select a county and add a name, such as “Mathilde Eiler” in the field “Name”) but I have not discovered any likely candidates, although there are women with that name in some of the counties.

Marcie Doran,

Various records link Bob Zerega to Africa (see Kieran’s comment of 29/01/2021 @ 01:45). According to Ancestry, Mario Robert (“Bob”) Zerega was born on Oct. 19, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. (WWII draft card). According to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census and the death certificate for Victor F. Zerega Jr., Bob’s parents were Victor F. Zerega and his wife Marie Carmen Rescia, who were born in Italy and Missouri, respectively.

Bob married Gloria Therese Perry of St. Louis (born Denver, Colorado on Oct. 2, 1928 (Brazilian landing card)) in Jan. 1949 (Abilene Reporter News, Nov. 12, 1952). They were both geologists. According to an article in the Abilene Reporter News on Nov. 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Bob was with the Columbus Exploration Company, and later was the chief geologist for the Mark Twain Oil Company. Bob and Gloria were two of the partners of the Ultra Oil Company (of Chicago and later of Abilene, Texas).

When Bob and Gloria sold their expensive home in Abilene, Texas, the sale was reported in the Abilene Reporter News on May 20, 1964 and the article noted their link to Africa as follows: “The Zeregas moved to Africa about a year and a half ago. He is engaged in the exploration for oil there and has a commitment from one of the African East Coast governments to drill for ... petroleum.”

Jette Zerega must have been Bob’s second wife since, according to the California Marriage Index, Gloria T. Zerega married Weldon A. Burgett on Aug. 25, 1968 in Sacramento, California. Gloria passed away on Sept. 5, 2020, in Fair Oaks, California (Price Funeral Chapel Inc.).

I have attached the May 24, 1964 article from the Abilene Reporter News (“$93,000 Home Here Purchased”).

Carolyn Belsey,

I was at college in the UK with Jette Christensen whose parents had a coffee estate in Ruiru, Kenya. She left the UK in 1965 and returned to Kenya after which I lost touch with her.
. Around 1967 she married Bob Zerega and they lived in Central Nairobi Herfather was Danish and she had relatives in Denmark that she visited whilst in the UK. It is possible therefore that this painting belonged to her father's family and that she inherited it from him.

Kieran Owens,

Carolyn, that is a very helpful contribution. Do you recall anything else about her husband or his or her family?

Mikkel Christensen,

Hi, I am Jette Zerega's (nee Christensen) younger brother, Mikkel Skou Christensen. Per Eiler Skou Christensen is our elder brother, and he also lives here in Western Australia. Jette inherited the painting from her mother, Kirsten Christensen (nee Wiene), who inherited the painting from her father. The name Eiler is a family name on my grandmother's side and I believe the painting is of my great great grandmother, Matilda Eiler. The information given re Bob Zerega and Jette being his second wife is correct. My brother and I have lost contact with my sister Jette since she moved to England in the 1990s. Happy to provide further information if you need it.

Jacinto Regalado,

Are the years of birth and death known for Matilda Eiler?

Mikkel Christensen,

Carolyn, you mentioned that you were at college in the UK with Jette. Do you happen to remember her boyfriend at the time, Malcolm? And if so, do you remember his surname as we are trying to locate him in New Zealand? Many thanks.

Carolyn, Mikkel,

Thank you very much for joining the discussion. If you would like to share anyone's contact details, please ask for them to be forwarded via rather than posting them on this discussion.

We look forward to any updates you might have on Matilde Eiler.