Koltrastens syn på näktergalen: Aurora von Qvanten och bilden av Jenny Lind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article presents a study of the female amateur Aurora von Qvanten (1818–1907), and her portrait of the famous Swedish singer, Jenny Lind (1829–1887), seen in relation to the contemporary array of portraits of Lind. Von Qvanten's work in the area of portraiture is virtually unknown, as is the case with that of most women artists of her time. Source material about von Qvanten is scarce, and her surviving portrait of Jenny Lind can therefore best be discussed in comparison to the portraits of the singer by other artists of the time. Interest in portraits of Jenny Lind was considerable. Apart from the Royal family, no other Swede was painted as frequently during her lifetime. Original portraits—oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and photographs—were limited in number. However, many of these originals were then speculatively mass‐reproduced, in engraved and lithograph versions, for a market in Sweden and in the other countries where the singer toured (Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, England and the United States). Jenny Lind's numerous public performances made her face well‐known, especially in the upper strata of society, and portraits of her were often critically reviewed with reference to the real person, whose charismatic presence could not be done justice in the reproductions. That both Jenny Lind as well as the people surrounding her considered her face to be plain further complicated matters, making the difference between her actual appearance and the many idealized or stereotyped portraits too marked.

Many portraits had already been produced during Jenny Lind's early years in Sweden. However, the best known of her portraits was executed in Berlin in 1846 by Eduard Magnus. His original portrait was used for both painted‐ as well as mass‐reproductions. As early as the following year, reproductions from a steel engraving by L. Sachse of Berlin—an engraving that closely followed the original—were distributed. A large number of variations were subsequently produced and distributed across the continent.

Aurora von Quanten's portrait, executed in tinted Indian ink, can be dated to around 1850. There were thus by that time a large number of possible originals among which to choose. From these, she selected Magnus’ portrait, in all likelihood in the Sachse version. While her portrait is a faithful copy down to the smallest detail, the face has been altered. As von Qvanten's interpretation of Jenny Lind's features lacks a prototype, one can speculate as to whether the face was executed after a live model. This article gives an account of the circumstances in which the portrait came into being, from which it is evident that von Qvanten could have seen Jenny Lind on stage, but that the singer cannot possibly have posed for the artist. Moreover, a comparison with the then available daguerrotypes excludes the possibility of von Qvanten's using a photograph as a guide. The peculiar, crude character of the head—differing essentially from the Magnus original, in which the features are slightly idealized and where the head is adorned with roses—is, finally, interpreted as a conscious choice of the amateur: an expression of individual, independently‐arrived‐at style during a critical period in the art of portraiture.


External organisations
  • Linköping University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Art History


Original languageSwedish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)130-139
Number of pages10
JournalKonsthistorisk Tidskrift
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1991
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes