The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Biography

Alfred Emile O’Hara Nieuwerkerke, 1811-1892

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1811.04.16
Place of Birth: Paris
Date of Death: 1892.01.16
Place of Death: Gattaiola, near Lucca


Alfred Emilien O'Hara, Comte de Nieuwerkerke, was a sculptor, museum director and collector. A member of a prominent Royalist family of Dutch descent, he was a naturalised Frenchman and the morganatic husband of Princess Mathilde Letitia Wilhelmina Bonaparte.


Nieuwerkerke studied sculpture under Carlo Marochetti. He specialized in historical and contemporary portraiture and exhibited at the Salon between 1842 and 1861. His works included William the Silent (1845; Paleis Noordeinde, The Hague) and Napoleon I (1854; Place d'Armes, La Roche-sur-Yon, Vendée). In 1848 he was appointed Directeur-Général des Musées by Louis-Napoléon. From 1851 he had apartments in the Louvre, where he held regular receptions attended by artists, politicians and aristocrats. In 1853 he was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the Institut, and in 1863 he was appointed Surintendant des Beaux-Arts.

JW came into contact with Nieuwerkerke early on in his career. In April 1857 he wrote to Nieuwerkerke seeking permission to copy Jean-Victor Schnetz's Les adieux du consul Boëthus à sa famille in the Musée du Luxembourg (#09214 - see Copy after Schnetz's 'Les Adieux du consul Boëtus à sa famille' (YMSM 13)). In June 1858 he again wrote, requesting permission to copy Jules-Claude Ziegler's La Vision de St Luc (#09215 - see Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' (YMSM 15), now in the Hunterian Art Gallery).

Nieuwerkerke was conservative in his taste, disliking the work of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet and Théodule Augustin Ribot. However, he admired the work of JW. In June 1863 JW sent Nieuwerkerke some etchings from the Thames Set that had been exhibited in the Salon and admired by Nieuwerkerke who already owned a number of JW's etchings (#09216, #02644, #01079). He remained an appreciator of JW's work, in 1867, apparently admiring the four paintings, including Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso (YMSM 73), and several etchings that JW sent to the Exposition Universelle (#09191). In this year Nieuwerkerke was President of the exhibition's art jury.

Nieuwerkerke was also a collector, owning medieval and Renaissance works of art, including furniture, metalwork, maiolica, glass and Limoges enamels, waxes and sculpture. He also owned some sixteenth and seventeenth century German and Italian armour, swords and daggers. Financial difficulites mean that in 1871 he was forced to sell his collection to Sir Richard Wallace and most of it remains in the Wallace Collection, London.


The Second Empire: Art in France under Napoleon III, Philadelphia, PA, 1978; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Gaynor, Suzanne, 'Comte de Nieuwerkerke: A Prominent Official of the Second Empire and his Collection', Apollo, vol. 122, 1985, pp. 372-79; Gaynor, Suzanne, 'Comte de Nieuwerkerke', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 7 February 2003).