Monday, 22 May 2017

In Search of "A. Totin", A Late 19th Century Portrait and Landscape Artist

"Die Ersten Rosen" & "In Die Blühtezeit"
by A. Totin
[From my own collection]  

Since 1992 I have owned two very large approx 66 x 55cm gold framed late 19th century oil portraits of a rather attractive young woman and it is these paintings shown above which form the subject of this blog. My apologies though for the slight parallax in the images. But frustratingly I know nothing of the specific provenance of the paintings before I purchased them, only a name for the artist, with the paintings having a German title without identifying the name of the sitter. They were sold to me by a picture framing business in Arrowtown New Zealand, being sold on behalf of an elderly lady in Invercargill but no other information on their history was known or made available to me. But being elderly I would imagine the lady and / or her family had at least owned them both for some years.

So firstly, what do we know of the artist? We know at least that the artist has clearly signed his paintings "A. Totin" in the bottom right hand corners as well as on small plaques affixed to the frames - but that is all. Totin's name is not quoted in any art books. The titles given to the paintings are in an old style of German which is at least a clue. This would indicate that Totin could have been German, French-German (ie Alsace-Lorraine), Swiss-German, or even Austrian. Narrowing this down any further would appear to be impossible without further specific clues. The name Totin does however appear to have origins in northern France. And where did Totin study art?

"A Lady With White Rose",
by A. Totin
[Source : International Art Centre, NZ]

Secondly, are any other works by "A. Totin" known? Well, on the positive side yes. A 67.5 x 54.0 portrait titled (probably informally) "Lady With White Rose", was sold by the 'International Art Centre', in Auckland New Zealand on the 5th May 2011 for USD$633.00. This is also of a similar size to my own two portraits. And is it a mere co-incidence that my two portraits and "Lady With White Rose" were both found in New Zealand?

"Personnages Sur La Grève À L'entrée Du Port"
by A. Totin, dated 19th - 20th century.
My apologies that this is a low resolution image.
[Source :]

Additionally, in December 2006 the Paris auction house of 'Lombrail-Teucquam' sold a circa  31.5 x 53cm late 19th - early 20th century Totin beachscape entitled "Personnages Sur La Grève À L'entrée Du Port", the hammer price being a commendable 1,750 Euros (previously passed in at two previous auctions). This title roughly translates to "people standing on a flat area covered with sand or gravel at the entrance to a harbour". Totin's name appears on the lower right, the same as on my paintings. But being a French auction house, they may also have added the title but no location for the beachscape is given. While we still cannot assume that Totin was French the fact that this painting was sold in France at least helps to confirm his European origins.    

"Die Ersten Rosen" - The First Roses,
by A. Totin
[From my own collection]

Now, what do we know of my portraits? In both cases the sitter is definitely the same woman but her identity is unfortunately unknown. In the second portrait she additionally wears a pearl and gold ring on her wedding finger which does not appear on the first portrait where she only wears a gold wrist band. The face would, I believe, be considered reasonably well executed and with some obvious talent while the the clothing and background are much less detailed, the latter being either done in haste or in such a way as not to detract from the main subject of the painting. The shadowy background on one of the portraits includes a Church spire.

Pasted on the back frame of both portraits I could just read obviously original titles hand written in ink in German language, being "Die Ersten Rosen" [the first roses of the season] and "In Die Blühtezeit" [literally "in the blooming time"]. I would have photographed these but for the difficulties of single-handedly lifting such large and unwieldy framed portraits off a stairwell wall. That no name was given to the actual sitter made me wonder if Totin may have painted these for an exhibition of his work in a gallery rather than being specifically commissioned to paint a portrait of a client. The fact that Totin's name is also painted in black on the small gold plaques affixed to the bottom of the frames would support this scenario. Additionally, even at the time the solid and really very heavy plaster and gilt wood 90 x 76.5cm frames would have been at some cost. While roses appear to have been a favourite accessory for his subjects they were in fact a very common accessory for portraits of this era.

"In Die Blühtezeit" - In the Blooming Time,
by A. Totin
[From my own collection]

But how did no less than three of Totin's portraits end up half way around the world in New Zealand? Digitized New Zealand newspapers make no reference to this name nor do official death and marriage records so I think we can safely discount any direct New Zealand connection to Totin unless there is a connection to the sitter.

I fully appreciate that there were many obviously talented and as well as 'run of the mill' portrait and landscape artists around in this era who produced a prodigious number of paintings but never reached the echelons of becoming a 'known' artist. But what makes these paintings special to me is that they are an attractive pair which have not been separated and I do hope that they shall remain together in the future. I have never had them professionally appraised though as I have never considered that their value would justify the expense. The sale price of "Lady with White Rose" is probably an accurate representative base figure.

So, while not valuable and in need of a professional clean to renew darkened varnish as well as requiring some restoration of the gold painted and gilt frames I have always loved and appreciated my own "Junge Dame Mit Rosen" [Young Lady with Roses] which have elegantly graced my large stairwell for the past 23 years. In fact, when I bought these portraits I didn't at the time even own a house that particularly suited such large paintings let alone a place to adequately display them. I simply fell in love with them and knew I would never have this opportunity again.

If anyone should have a Totin portrait or landscape or in fact knows anything more about the elusive "A. Totin" I would be very pleased to hear from you. My email link appears in the right hand menu bar or you can leave a comment below with your email address. I moderate all comments so this will remain private.

Copyright : 

Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Images may not be used for commercial purposes without my express written permission.

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