This pair of miniature portraits were a very lucky and important find, which shows that looking carefully for bargains, trusting one's judgement, and then applying some detective work to the subject matter can lead to important discoveries.
The pair were advertised by an art dealer on eBay with a Buy it Now price of $55.99, as;
TWO MINIATURE PAINTINGS FRENCH(?) 1950's - For sale I have two miniature painting framed which seemed to be from France painted sometimes in the 50s'. Not sure if they are on enamel or paper so I sell them 'AS IS'. The diameter of each painting is 2.5 inches or 6.75 cm. They are in excellent condition and framed. Selling as a set.
My first instinct was that an art dealer would know what he was selling. If so they ought to be recent copies, as he said from the 1950's, with his BIN price reflecting their value as prints. But although they had a very poor photo on the listing, i.e. the one below showing them in their frames, they looked "right" as being genuine miniature portraits from the first half of the 19C.
Thus, for the sake of $55.99 they seemed well worth the risk of buying. As is evident from the description, the inference was that they were of an unknown couple by an unknown artist.
Hence there was anxious excitement in awaiting their arrival.
While awaiting arrival it was possible to start research by considering
the uniform. Initially it appeared to be a police uniform, but that
seemed to lead nowhere.
On arrival and carefully opening them, it was found they were signed on the reverse. That of the man is also signed in very tiny letters on the centre-front. One in a hand of 1837, with the date of 22 March 1837, and one appearing to be in a later hand, likely from the 20C. The early signature appeared to be that of J F Fischer who, according to Leo Schidlof, worked in Austria and exhibited at the Academy of Vienna in 1834. But little else seems to be known about him.
That information was helpful, as it suggested the city scape was likely in Vienna, with the rural scene as a country home. However, contact via a friend in Europe who was able to ask a Vienna resident, concluded it was not in Vienna, but was suggested as perhaps somewhere in the region of Bohemia.
That led to a pure "Eureka!!" call, as a picture of the Ambassador was revealed as the very same man. Prince Pál Antal Esterházy de Galántha (German: Paul Anton Esterházy von Galantha; 11 March 1786 – 21 May 1866) was a Hungarian prince, a member of the famous Esterházy family. He was the son of Prince Nikolaus II and succeeded his father on the latter's death in 1833.
Wikipedia records that While most of Paul's ancestors had served the Empire as military officers, Paul instead pursued a career in diplomacy, and later politics.
After the Congress of Vienna (1815) he was appointed as ambassador to the United Kingdom. In 1842 he returned to Hungary and became a member of the Conservative Party, which supported the Habsburg supremacy and did not favour the reform experiments. On 7 April 1848 he was appointed as Minister besides the King in the first cabinet of Hungary which was controlled by Count Lajos Batthyány. His role was as the mediatory between Vienna and the Hungarian government. Seeing that his pacifying intentions ended in failure, he resigned from his position in September. Later Esterházy took connections with the immigrated politicians.
He was Minister besides the King during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. At the time of the Napoleonic Wars he worked for the Austrian Empire as a diplomat. He tried to form diplomatic associations for Vienna, (for example with the Kingdom of Saxony), but he did not achieve any results. Despite this failure Esterházy remained a famous and acknowledged politician.
In 1848 the American author John Stevens Cabot Abbott wrote the following of Prince Esterházy in 1830:
[In Hungary,] the feudal system still exists in all its ancient barbaric splendor. Prince Esterhazy, a Hungarian baron, is probably the richest man, who is not seated on a throne, in the world. He lives in the highest style of earthly grandeur. One of his four magnificent palaces contains three hundred and sixty rooms for guests, and a theater. His estates embrace one hundred and thirty villages, forty towns, and thirty-four castles. By the old feudal law, still undisturbed, he possesses unlimited power over his vassals, and can imprison, scourge, and slay at pleasure ... He has quite a little band of troops in his pay, and moves with military pomp and gorgeous retinue from palace to palace.
The Prince's wealth came partly from the great number of peasants who owed him a portion of the fruits of the labors. He also had his own enterprises, directed by his staff, notably sheep raising. Of his enormous flock, Abbott relates:
Not long ago he visited England, and was a guest of the Lord of Holkham, one of the most wealthy proprietors of that island. While looking upon a very beautiful flock of two thousand sheep, the Lord of Holkham inquired if Esterhazy could show as fine a flock upon his estates. The wealthy baron smilingly replied, " My shepherds are more numerous than your sheep." This was literally true, for Esterhazy has two thousand five hundred shepherds.
Despite his great wealth, Paul managed to spend beyond his means, getting into financial trouble just as his father had. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, "the last years of his life were spent in comparative poverty and isolation, as even the Esterházy-Forchtenstein estates were unequal to the burden of supporting his fabulous extravagance and had to be placed in the hands of curators." His successor Nikolaus III got out of debt in part by selling the famous family art collection.
Having identified the man as Paul, the identity of the lady was easy to determine. She was equally important in her own right as Princess Maria Theresia of Thurn and Taxis. Her full German name being: Maria Theresia, Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis (born 6 July 1794 in Regensburg, Free Imperial City of Regensburg, Holy Roman Empire; died 18 August 1874 in Hütteldorf, Penzing, Vienna, Austria–Hungary. She was a member of the House of Thurn and Taxis and a Princess of Thurn and Taxis by birth and a member of the House of Esterházy and Princess Esterházy of Galántha from 25 November 1833 to 21 May 1866 through her marriage to Paul III Anthony, 8th Prince Esterházy of Galántha.
That still left the background scene, and a further realisation that the city scape was in fact London, with Nelson's Column on the extreme right-hand side. Nelson's Column is a monument in Trafalgar Square in central London built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The monument was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to a design by William Railton at a cost of £47,000. It is a column of the Corinthian order built from Dartmoor granite. The Craigleith sandstone statue of Nelson is by E. H. Baily and the four bronze lions on the base, added in 1867, were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer.
The miniature is dated 1837, which was before the column was erected, giving rise to a partially unresolved puzzle, to which the solution can perhaps be surmised. Public funds were raised to erect the column, but it had been talked about for several years beforehand. Thus, it seems likely Paul was in Vienna during 1837 and asked the artist, Josef Fischer, to include an artist's impression of how the column might look on completion.
A careful look shows there is no statue of Nelson on top of the column. Experts in London likely have other early images of the column, but the image is therefore perhaps one of the early depictions, if not the earliest painting of Nelson's Column. Altogether a fascinating discovery to make and a very interesting insight into 19C history. 1487a and 1487b