I stumbled upon this painting somewhere in the hazy depths of Tumblr, and its aura of gentleness, tenderness and lightness immediately attracted me.
Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by Serbian painter Konstantin Danil remained unfinished. It wasn’t the artist’s death that stopped him from painting his wife’s delicate pale hands, it was probably the sense of completeness, the impression that every succeeding brushstroke would be overindulgence. Danil (1798-1873), was a renowned Serbian painter of the 19th century, born in a family with Serbian and Romanian roots. His father was a Russian officer who eventually settled in Banat (now western Romania). Fate dealt Danil such cards that he travelled too, and his artistic career stretched through different countries. He studied painting in Temișvar, Munich and Vienna, and also travelled throughout Banat and Transylvania, capturing the scenery along the way. Although he painted almost every subject there is to paint, he was most proficient in portraits such as the one above.
In a plain white dress, with bare shoulders, Danil’s wife Sofia Dely, who belonged to the impoverished Hungarian aristocratic family, sits leaned on the arm of the chair, gazing mournfully into the distance. Gathers on her thin white dress are painted beautifully, the dark parts being carefully accentuated with grey and soft pink tones. Technique chiaroscuro (light-dark) gives the sense of volume and emphasises the woman’s lightness against the vast dark background. Her loose white garment, bare shoulders and soft curls are evocative of the seventeenth century portraits by French and English masters, such as one of the portraits of Nell Gwyn.
Still, the focus is on the woman’s face; rosy cheeks, sad light blue eyes, thin lips, soft under chin, and thinning hair that once shone in abundance of golden curls all suggest a withered woman. This, along with a peculiar plaintive glance, gives the portrait a psychological depth; it was painted by someone who knew her well and had been married to her almost twenty years at the time. The vague definition of her right hand gives the portrait its magic. Because of this vagueness everything else looses its distinction, and the figure becomes translucent and decadently delicate. In this portrait, naturalism typical for Biedermeier gave way to truthful romantic sensibility.