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Elisabeth (Sisi), future Empress of Austria, by Carl Piloty and Franz Adam, in front of Possenhofen castle, 1853

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oil on cloth, 128 x 108 cm, signed and dated lower right corner, Dorotheum Auction House, sale 27 April 2017, lot 1138

This painting was commissioned by Sisi’s father, Max of the Bavarian House Wittelsbach, as a present to Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, to whom Sisi was engaged. It was presented to Franz Joseph on Christmas 1853, when Sisi had just reached her 16th year. At the time of the painting she was only 15. Sisi was fond of animals and already an experienced horsewoman. Next to their signature the painters mentioned “n.d. N.”, abbreviation of “nach der Natur”, meaning “according to nature”. So her passion was made clear. Franz Joseph shared this enthusiasm and had fallen in love with this young girl. He hung this painting above his bed and it stayed there all his life, even when he and Sisi became estranged. Von Piloty made another version of this painting, without Franz Adam, and this version ended up in the collection of the Thurn und Taxis family in Regensburg. This version is widely distributed in prints and copies, but lacks the freshness of the original and differs in small details, such as the blue brow-band of the horse in the color of the rider’s scarf. The original as shown here has always stayed in the possession of the family of Sisi’s youngest daughter Marie Valerie and her descendants. From 15 April 2017 it is publicly shown at the Auction House Dorotheum in Vienna, until 27 April. Now we can observe Sisi’s youthful elegance combined with her mastery of the horse, probably an English thoroughbred. In her later life she would build up a reputation as a fearless and tireless hunting amazone who was not happy in the Viennese court life. This painting marks the beginning of an important era in Austrian history.


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