Water colors of Brazil in 1817 are on display from April 2 until April 5 at the Embassy of Austria, 3524 International Court NW, Washington. Afterward they return to Vienna. Because they are copyrighted, they cannot be displayed on the embassy website.
On March 29th I attended a lecture at the Austrian Embassy in Washington DC sponsored by the American-Austrian Society, the Embassy of Brazil and the Austrian Cultural Forum. The topic was: “The Brazilian Expedition of 1817 as portrayed in the Art of Thomas Ender.” The lecture was presented by Gloria Kaiser, an Austrian historian and award-winning novelist known for her historical novels which focus on Brazil, where she spends part of every year.
Ms. Kaiser recounted how a Habsburg, Leopoldina, daughter of Franz I of Austria, became Empress of Brazil. In 1808, as Napoleon’s armies began the invasion of Portugal, the monarch, King João VI, and his entire court decamped to Rio de Janeiro where they remained until 1821. In 1816 João VI contacted Franz I and said that he wanted his son, Dom Pedro, to take a Hapsburg princess as his wife. Did the Austrian Emperor have a daughter who could fill the bill? Klemens von Metternich, the Emperor’s chancellor, suggested Leopoldina, Franz’s fourth daughter, the second to survive infancy. Metternrich said it was “her turn” to become a wife.
In May 1817, the industrious and well-educated Leopoldina was married to Dom Pedro by proxy in Vienna. In August 1817, having studied the history and geography of her future home and having learned Portuguese, Leopoldina embarked for Brazil. She was accompanied on the trip by landscape painter Thomas Ender as well as Johann Natterer, a zoologist and Johann Polh, a mineralogist. After an adventured-filled voyage lasting 81 days, the ship arrived in Rio and Leopoldina finally met her husband.
The painter, Thomas Ender, had learned to work fast because photography was coming into use and he wanted to be competitive with the new technology. In one year he painted 782 beautiful watercolors which are very detailed in their depictions of the Brazilian landscape and the life of the Portuguese colony. Fortunately, these paintings on paper have managed to survive, although they are in delicate condition. They are in storage in Vienna, away from the harmful effects of light. Ms. Kaiser’s Powerpoint presentation showed 30 facsimiles of Ender’s delightful watercolors.