HERMAN JEAN JOSEPH RICHIR (BELGIAN, 1866-1942) PORTRAIT OF CARDINAL DESIRE-JOSEPH MERCIER (BELGIAN, 1851-1926), oil on mahogany panel, Signed, dated, and inscribed "Herman Richir / Bruxelles / 1924" upper right. Period label verso with printed insignia for "George Cole Scott / Ballyshannon" inscribed "Cardinal Mercier / Painted by H. Richir / A souvenir of their visit with their children to the Cardinal / July - 1923". Housed in a period carved and gilded frame. Circa 1923. 16 1/4" x 13" sight, 25 1/2" x 22" OA. Provenance: From the collection of Gordon and Hildreth Wheeler, Keswick, VA. Items descended from the Scott and McCray families of Richmond, VA. Catalogue Note: The sitter for the present portrait, Roman Catholic Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercier (1851-1926), was an important Belgian intellectual and theologian who is perhaps best known for a series of letters he wrote from German-occupied Belgium during World War I in protest of German policy and practice in his native country. He spent the course of the war under house arrest but was still able to communicate with the people of Belgium and the world through underground networks. In the face of what are viewed as German atrocities against the Belgian population during the war, Cardinal Mercier bravely defied the deadly consequences with his leadership and, in the process, became something of an international celebrity.
George Cole Scott (1875-1932), for whom this portrait was commissioned, was one of those who remained affected by the Cardinal's legacy in the immediate years after the war and made a point of visiting the elderly priest during a family trip to Brussels in 1923. George Cole Scott was a wealthy and influential native of Richmond, Virginia, who, among other accomplishments, served as delegate from Virginia at the Republican National Convention in 1932. Scott had ancestral roots in the landed Irish gentry, and even christened his new showpiece home overlooking the James River, "Ballyshannon", in honor of his Irish heritage. George Cole Scott and his wife traveled frequently, often buying antiques, art, and fine objects along the way. The present example by artist Herman Richir is just such a token of their travels, in this case, to Belgium. Interestingly, Richir painted another, much larger, group portrait of Scott, his wife, and their sixteen-year-old daughter on this same trip, when they were presented at the Belgian Royal court.
The artist, Herman Richir (1866-1942), was an important Belgian painter who has received critical recognition for his work, particularly his portraits. He showed much promise at a young age, exhibiting in Paris in the 1890s and at the Belgian World's Fair in 1897. In 1900, he became a professor of painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where remained for the next twenty-seven years. He continued to paint during this period and often secured portrait commissions from the wealthy and elite of the era, including the Belgian Royal Family. The present example subtly communicates the quiet dignity and resolve of the then-aged Mercier and exemplifies Richir's fine abilities as an artist.
Excellent overall condition with minor wear to paint at one edge of panel. Minor wear to frame.