Consuelo Yznaga, Duchess of Manchester (1853?–1909) and Emilie Yznaga (1859?–1944)

Louis-Léopold Boilly, A Girl at a Window (NG 5583)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Portrait of a Lady (Madame de Gléon? (NG 5584)
Nicolas de Largillierre, Portrait of a Man (Jean-Baptiste Rousseau?) (NG 5585)
Jean-Marc Nattier, Manon Balletti (NG 5586)
Jean-Marc Nattier, Portrait of a Man in Armour (NG 5587)
After Alexander Roslin, The Dauphin, Louis de France, as Colonel of the Dauphin-Dragons (NG 5588)
Louis Tocqué, Portrait of a Young Woman (NG 5590)

The Gallery’s acquisition of the paintings

In both his 1946 and 1957 catalogues of the National Gallery’s French paintings, Martin Davies gave the most recent provenance of these seven paintings as ‘Yznaga Bequest, 1945’.1 The Yznaga referred to was Miss Emilie Yznaga, and in every case, save one, Davies expressed the immediately prior provenance as ‘Probably one of the pictures that passed from the Duchess of Manchester (died 1909) [Consuelo Yznaga] to her sister, Emilie Yznaga’. The exception was the Nattier portrait of Manon Balletti where Davies was more positive, stating that it was acquired by the Duchess of Manchester in 1907 and passed to her sister, Emilie. In addition to the French pictures was one Italian School painting, namely Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s The Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross (NG 5589). This was first catalogued by Michael Levey in 1956. Levey stated that it was in the collection of Miss Emilie Yznaga by 1936, and added in a cautious endnote, ‘Just possibly it was among the pictures passed to [Emilie Yznaga] from her sister the Duchess of Manchester’, a formula he repeated in his 1971 catalogue.2 In fact there was no effective bequest and even if there had been one it would not have occurred in 1945. This was because the paintings had already been given to the Gallery. Its then Director, Kenneth Clark, saw the Yznaga paintings in Paris in the spring of 1936,3 and on 9 March 1937 he reported to the Trustees that Emilie Yznaga had ‘signed and deposited in the Gallery a formal Deed of Gift of her collection which … included several works of a type the Gallery lacked and were, in their kind, of the finest quality. Miss Yznaga would keep the pictures during her lifetime’.4 In fact she was not giving her collection, but only a part of it – namely, the Tiepolo and the seven pictures referred to in the headnote to this account.5 Although the deed of gift, which was dated 22 February 1937, cannot now be found, there are other references to it in the Gallery’s files,6 and it is clear that Yznaga made an immediate gift of paintings, albeit subject to her life interest. In October 1938, concerned by the possibility of war, she deposited the pictures with the National Gallery on loan,7 and the following month they were on display.8 Her life interest, which was the only outstanding interest in the paintings capable of being disposed of, expired on Emilie’s death on 1 November 1944.9 Consequently, on Emilie’s death, unless the deed of gift was expressed to be revocable and was in fact revoked, her estate had no property in the paintings capable of being bequeathed. Nevertheless, from a concern to make absolutely sure that the paintings became the Gallery’s property, Emilie made a will in English form in 1943 confirming the gift. Although the will became operative on Emilie’s death in 1944, it was only in March 1945 that her death, and presumably the will, was reported to the Gallery.10 Probably this was why Emilie Yznaga’s gift has ever since been called – wrongly – ‘Yznaga Bequest, 1945’ rather than, as it should have been, ‘Yznaga Gift, 1937’.

NOTES

I am grateful to Elena Greer, former Curatorial Assistant at the National Gallery, for helping to gather some of the information on which this biographical note is based. In addition, I am grateful to Stuart Band, Alexa Cox, Richard Edgcumbe, Peter J. St B. Green, Andy Haswell, Christianne Henry, Diane Naylor, Sofia Peers, Andrew Peppitt, Maxime Préaud, Cyrille Sciama, Marianne de Voogd, David Warren and the Centre de documentation, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, all of whom were kind enough to reply to the various enquiries I made.

1 Davies 1946 (1957), passim.

2 Levey 1956, pp. 107–8; and Levey 1971, p. 241.

3 NG Archive, 16/290/71: Correspondence between Clark and Yznaga, 1936. During his visit Clark also noted a painting by Ducreux which Yznaga was then intending to give to the Louvre, presumably the self-portrait offered in the Costa de Beauregard sale at Libert et Castor, Paris, 26 June 1989, lot 32.

4 NG Archives, Board Minutes, 9 March 1937.

5 The National Gallery Trustees were already aware that Miss Yznaga was intending to give only part of her collection: NG Archives, Board Minutes, 12 May 1936.

6 For example, NG Archive, S333.

7 Tate Archive, Papers of Kenneth Clark, TGA 8812/1/4/242, letter from Clark to Yznaga, 26 October 1938. Emilie Yznaga had expressed her concern about a forthcoming war in a letter to Clark on 18 September 1938, but was initially reassured by the Munich Agreement (letter to Clark, 29 September 1938: ‘I hope that all the world is on its knees blessing Mr. Chamberlain …’). The loan is also referred to as such in NG Archives, Board Minutes, 15 November 1939. Since Emilie Yznaga had reserved a life interest to herself, her loaning the pictures was consistent with her having gifted the interest in remainder.

8 Tate Archive, ibid., letter from Clark to Yznaga, 18 November 1938.

9 See The Times, 6 February 1946, ‘Legal Notices’.

10 NG Archives, Board Minutes, 13 March 1945. In Emilie Yznaga’s will dated 16 February 1943 she confirmed delivery of the paintings to the Gallery with the intention of vesting ownership, and then went on to say that if that gift were deemed defective she thereby bequeathed the paintings. Martin Davies, who had a well-founded reputation for being meticulous, must have been confused by the will. He certainly knew about the gift, because at a meeting of the Trustees in 1938 at which Davies was present, it was reported that Miss Yznaga, concerned about possible war in Europe, had deposited the paintings at the Gallery on temporary loan – necessary because she had reserved the life interest to herself – and the deed of gift was again referred to as such. Secondly, a note in Davies’s own hand made against the list of pictures in the Manod quarry in Wales in or before 1941 stated in relation to the Yznaga paintings: ‘These are now the property of the National Gallery’. (The Gallery did indeed have ownership rights in the paintings, albeit subject to the life interest.) Further evidence of Emilie Yznaga’s intention to make an immediate gift of property in the paintings is the fact that, as Clark had reported to the Trustees, the point of her making a lifetime gift rather than a bequest was to avoid the French death duties that might arise and which the Gallery would have to pay. After depositing the eight pictures with the Gallery in 1938 Yznaga planned to add ‘my picture of two young lions’ then attributed to Rubens, but offered at auction in 1989 as by Frans Snyders (Libert et Castor, Paris, 26 June 1989, lot 53), but her plan was frustrated by the war: letter to Clark of 16 December 1939(?). In this letter, which is in the Tate Archive (see note 7), she explains: ‘I wanted to leave this picture to the Metropolitan but the Director was so stupid I changed my mind. The picture belonged to the King of the Belgians Leopold the first who bought it from the Duke of Bedford in 1827. There are also 6 Guardi very good ones.’ The Snyders is identifiable in a painting of the interior of Yznaga’s apartment by Jean Béraud in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, inv. 36229. Five of the paintings described by Emilie as by Guardi were presumably lots 21 to 25 of the Libert et Castor sale.

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