Fritz and Rolf von Beck 1920

Full-length double portrait of two boys in sitting position. The older 15-year-old boy (Fritz) in a dark gray riding suit with brown riding boots sits in a high tapestry reclining chair, his left hand stroking a black and brown Doberman dog with cropped ears. To his left, the 11-year-old younger brother (Rolf) is seated on the right armrest of the chair, his right arm resting on his thigh, his left arm resting on the back of the chair. He wears a light gray sports suit with a wide cloth belt and short pants, as well as a white shirt with a black tie, light brown ankle boots and light socks. Background painted in brown-gold tones, suggesting the floor, a wall and a gold-colored curtain.

Oil on canvass 185 x 125 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams 1920
Private collection Portugal.

Dr. Fritz (Friedrich/Frédéric) Berthold von Beck, 21.5.1905 Vienna to 25.2.1997 Lisbon, entrepreneur and passionate fox hunter. Ing. Rolf (Rudolf) Emanuel von Beck, 25.3.1909 Vienna to 25.4. 1991 Suffolk, UK, car racer, inventor and entrepreneur.
Fritz and Rolf Beck were born into a well-known Viennese industrialist family. The firm of Wilhelm Beck and Sons was the leading manufacturer of military and civil service uniforms in the monarchy. Founded in 1849 by Wilhelm Beck (1819-1909), the business was continued and expanded by his sons Hermann (1845-1913) and Adolf (1851-1921). Hermann's sons Otto (1873-1960, father of the two boys) and Edmund (1878-1942) and Adolf's son Arthur (1882-1942) continued the business, which was also honored by being named a supplier to the imperial court. The company's elegant sales store in the noble Palais Equitable on Stephansplatz in the heart of Vienna was legendary. The company expanded enormously during World War I, adding textile factories in what is now the Czech Republic. After the end of the monarchy, the company ran into economic difficulties due to lack of demand. The Viennese production facilities were sold to M. Neumann & Sons in 1920 and the family retained only a minority share in the remaining company until its liquidation in 1933. Only the operations in Czechoslovakia continued to operate and were managed by Edmund Beck (the Viennese branches until their liquidation by Otto and Arthur Beck). Despite this decline of the company, the Beck family continued to be very wealthy and had extensive real estate holdings in Vienna, on Lake Wolfgang, as well as in Czechoslovakia. Otto and Edmund Beck were ennobled by Emperor Karl on October 31, 1918 (shortly before his resignation from government business on November 11, 1918, which was followed by his departure into exile in Switzerland on March 23, 1919). With one exception, these were the last Jewish nobilitations of the monarchy (see Jan Županič Hist. Jahrbuch 2016, 136:501-597). Otto as well as his sons Fritz and Rolf thereafter (even after the abolition of noble titles in Austria as of 10.4.1919) used the designation Freiherr von Beck or Baron Beck, respectively. (According to available sources Edmund Beck and his family however never used their noble title.) The parents of the two brothers were Dr. Otto von Beck (ennobled 1918, doctorate 1922), 19.12.1879 Vienna to 13.12.1960 Geneva, and Margarethe/Marguerite (Grete), née Schwitzer (Schwytzer), 19.12.1892 Vienna to 21.01.1954 Geneva. Otto and Margarethe von Beck were also portrayed by Adams around the same time as the two boys (see cross-references).

Dr. Fritz von Beck spent his youth in Vienna, completing his studies with a doctorate. From the mid/late 1920s, he had his main residence in Czechoslovakia at the castle-like Rohov estate, which his father had acquired in 1919 and rebuilt and extended after a fire in 1924, and probably signed over to his sons before/after 1927. Nothing is known about his early professional activities. Lectures and radio broadcasts in Prague on his travels by ship (to Malta or from Prague to the North Sea) have survived in newspaper reports. In January 1935 he married Edith ("Dity") Irene, née Knapitsch in Salzburg, news that was also spread in the Viennese salon press with a photo of the young couple. According to family tradition, he became acquainted with fox hunting with hounds during a stay in England in the 1930s, an interest he maintained throughout his life. The couple was blessed with three children: the first (son Martin) was born in Czechoslovakia, the two others (daughter Marina and son Christopher later in exile in Portugal). In 1939 Fritz von Beck managed to escape racial persecution at the last minute from the Nazis who occupied Czechoslovakia. With his family he fled by car via Yugoslavia, Italy and Spain to Portugal. The family remained in exile in Portugal, where Fritz, now Frédéric de Beck, became a successful businessman. His company Transagraire (in which also his father Otto von Beck in Geneva had invested substantially – Der Bund 25.May.1945 02, p.3) imported colonial goods such as coffee, cocoa and sisal mainly from the then still existing Portuguese colonies in Africa. After the war, Fritz resumed his connections to Austria, regularly visiting the Salzkammergut (St. Gilgen) and Vienna, and also owned an apartment in Salzburg (Neutorstraße 15), from where the present Adams portrait was kindly loaned to the major Adams exhibition in 1986. In Portugal, he was best known as the Master of Hounds of the only foxhounds pack on the Iberian Peninsula, which he ran for 40 years until his death. Fritz von Beck died in 1997 surrounded by his family in Lisbon.

Ing. Rolf von Beck spent his youth in Vienna, but probably around the mid-1920s he moved to Czechoslovakia to Rohov Manor, which his father managed as an agricultural estate after the renovation following the great fire in 1924. He studied mechanical engineering and chemistry, in Vienna, Geneva and Lausanne, graduating with an engineering degree. Already at the age of 20 he participated in car races with Skoda automobiles and in the period 1930 to 1938 he was a regular participant in car races and touring drives, especially the winter touring race of the Austrian Touring Club, where he took ex aequo first place in the class up to 1100 cm3 in 1938. These winter drives were very demanding due to the challenging weather and road conditions, therefore few participants made it to the finish (in 1931 Rolf Beck received a special prize for this reason). Baron Rolf Beck gave "landowner" as his profession in the race entries. (In 1924 Otto von Beck signed over his villa in St. Gilgen am Wolfgangsee, Ischlerstrasse 13, to his two sons; the sons sold the Mozart fountain by the sculptor Karl Wollek, which was intended for installation in the garden, to the municipality of St. Gilgen. Since then it has been a landmark of the village. In 1927 they also sold the villa. Later Otto von Beck also signed over the Rohov estate in Czechoslovakia to his sons). Rolf von Beck was also the owner of the Arsenal Garage in Karolinengasse in Vienna. Besides car racing, he was also interested in sailing. In 1927 he participated in the end-of-season regatta in St. Gilgen with the yacht Lybussa II and achieved the 3rd place in the 20 m2 centerboard racing class. (The first prize in the special class was won by John Quincy Adams on his boat Jugend). Rolf von Beck moved to England around 1937, where he was a sales representative for Skoda automobiles until 1939. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by German troops and the incipient racial persecution of the Jews, to which numerous members of the widespread Beck family fell victim (see the excursus Shoah victims of the Beck family in entry to the portrait Otto von Beck), he remained in England and became very successful as an inventor (dry lubricants and lubricant components/additives for engines) and founder of several companies, including the still existing company Molyslip, a success which he also staged accordingly. Privately, his life was quite colorful. He was married 4 times (but had only one descendant, his son Steven Rolf, who died childless in 1997 at the age of only 49). Until 1951 he lived in Holtsmere House, Redbourne, Herts (whose art collection, mainly of old Dutch masters, went to voluntary auction in 1951) and then in the historic estate of Leyham Hall in Suffolk, where his (rather eccentric) first wife (marriage 1944, divorce before 1975) Elizabeth, born Fletcher, kept exotic large animals (bears), horses, monkeys and numerous small animals and published a quite amusing book about her experience in 1964 (Baroness Elizabeth Beck, Murgatroyd started it!, County Life Limited, London, 1964, 111pp). A bear attacked Elizabeth and had to be shot by Rolf Beck, who seemed to rather have enjoyed the drama. His background and financial status remained shrouded in mystery to friends and locals (Michael Wynne-Parker, 2011, pp.62-63). His private hobbies included hunting, sailing, skiing, and his lifelong passion for cars. Baron Rolf Beck died in 1991 in Suffolk, England and is buried, as is his son Steven, in the picturesque graveyard of the church St. Mary in the village of Raydon not far from Leyham Hall.

The Beck brothers' portrait is one of Adams' most accomplished portraits of children. The staging around the armchair masterfully portrays both the fraternal bond and the individual personalities of the boys. The natural posture of the children, no doubt encouraged by the presence of the family dog which is also depicted, is also remarkable because normally very difficult to achieve. It is not known whether the Beck family had closer personal ties with the painter Adams as early as 1920 (a possible further reason for the informality of the two boys in the portrait session), but such contacts are documented for subsequent years. The Beck family tradition recalls several visits of Adams to the Rohov estate (probably after 1924) and also the joint participation of Adams and Rolf von Beck in the St. Gilgen Regatta in 1927 testify to this. The portrait was painted in Adams' studio at Theresianumgasse 11 in Vienna, as evidenced by the armchair used in the picture (which is also often used in other portraits). The studio was in the immediate vicinity of Otto von Beck's Vienna apartment at Karolinengasse 5, which the family occupied between 1917 and 1927. Stylistically, the portrait is characteristic of the artist's late phase. He retained the principle (inspired by Whistler) of tone-on-tone coloring, but increasingly dissolved the background into abstract areas of color, shaped only by roughly structured brushstrokes. The background of the picture thus really recedes into the background and concentrates the eye on the successful composition of the group of two boys with the dog. Regarding the provenance of the painting, it is remarkable that despite the racial persecution of the Beck family (about 10 uncles/aunts and cousins of the two brothers fell victim to the Shoah) it always remained in the family’s possession. Together with the two other Adams portraits of the boy’s parents, it came to Switzerland with Otto and Grete Beck. After their death, the present portrait passed to Fritz von Beck and from him to his family descendants.

Acknowledgements: Friendly communications from Christopher de Beck and from Sarah Helen Beck provided important data and information on the biography.

Exhibited

1986 Academy Schillerplatz Vienna, Vienna Society in Portrait, catalog no. 47.

Literature

Schaffer/Eisenburger 1986, exhibition catalog #47 (b/w ill.), erroneously labeled there as Otto and Fritz von Beck.

APH, catalog raisonné JQA 1995, p. 174, cat.#141, fig.#95.

Provenance

Otto and Margarethe von Beck, Vienna, Rohov and Geneva.
Dr. Fritz von Beck, Lisbon and Salzburg.
His family descendants,
private collection, Portugal.

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