Countess Katinka Karolyi 1918

Full-length portrait, half reclining on a chaise longue, supported by a dark brown cushion, her right arm propped on the backrest, playing with her locks of hair, her left hand clasping a string of pearls on her lap, her legs crossed, looking directly at the viewer. She wears a sleeveless, wide-cut dress, over which is thrown a burgundy coat with dark brown fur trim, leaving only her right shoulder bare. The chaise longue is upholstered in a striped cover and has striking gold claw feet, with a rug in front of it; in the background is a gathered gold brocade curtain.

JQAW# P_1918_080
Oil on canvas, 187 x 175 cm
Signature: John Quincy ɑdams 918
Private collection, France.

Katinka Countess (Michael) Károlyi, née Andrássy, 21.9.1892 Tiszadob to 12.6.1985 Antibes, the "Red Countess."
She was born into a highly aristocratic magnate family that produced a number of notable politicians. Her grandfather was Gyula Count Andrássy, prime minister of Hungary after 1867 and long-time Foreign Minister of the Habsburg Dual Monarchy; her uncle and stepfather (from the 2nd marriage of her widowed mother Eleonora, née Countess Zichy) Count Gyula Andrássy Jr. was the last Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary. After an extremely sheltered childhood, she became interested in social and political issues at an early age. In 1913 she met Count Mihály (Michael) Károlyi de Nagykároly (1875-1955), 17 years her senior. Also from the high aristocracy and one of the largest landowners in Hungary, he had political ambitions and pursued social-reformist ideas. The couple married on November 7, 1914; Katinka shared her husband's political goals and was also a political activist herself (for example, she organized a political debating club for women in Budapest in 1918/19). Mihály Károlyi, an eminent critic of World War I and leader of the parliamentary opposition, was appointed prime minister of Hungary by Emperor Charles I. in the fall of 1918; after the proclamation of the Hungarian Republic, he was elected president of Hungary, but resigned in March 1919 after his policies failed. (He was unable to carry out his project of land reform, but distributed the land of his vast holdings to his peasant tenants.) Leftist republic and counter-revolution, which ended in the Horthy (see his Adams portrait) regime, followed. The couple went into exile in July 1919 and their property later expropriated by the Horthy regime.

Years of economic difficulties and an odyssey of exile (first in Czechoslovakia, then in Italy, from there deported to Austria, then in Yugoslavia) followed. In 1923 the couple went into exile in England, where they maintained active contacts with leading left-wing politicians and intellectuals. In the 1930s they lived in Paris, where they became increasingly anti-fascist and ideologically closer to the communists. Katinka undertook a series of tasks of a political activist: in 1924 lecture tour in the USA (where she fell ill with typhoid fever - a re-entry in 1925 was refused by the US authorities); in 1931 she traveled to the Soviet Union and reported on the situation of women in the USSR and on the celebrations of George Bernad Shaw's 75th birthday in Moscow; in 1933 she smuggled documents incriminating Adolf Hitler's Nazi party out of Germany. The couple spent World War 2 in England, organizing the Hungarian diaspora to restore a democratic Hungary.

In February 1946, Mihály Károlyi was rehabilitated by the Hungarian Parliament and his palace in Budapest and 150 hectares of land were restituted. The couple returned to Budapest in May 1946 and Mihály Károlyi was posted to Paris as ambassador. While still silent on the show trial of Cardinal Mindszenty in early 1949, he protested the arrest (and later execution) of Communist Foreign Minister László Rajk and numerous of his embassy staff in Paris by the Stalinist regime of Mátyás Rákosi and was again forced into exile. He died in 1955 in Vence, France. Katinka traveled to Budapest in 1961 and met with party leader János Kádár (the inventor of "Guylas-communism") and obtained permission to bury her late husband Mihaly in Budapest, as well as her son Adam, who had died as a student pilot in England in 1939. Back in France, she wrote her memoirs in Hungarian (2 volumes 1967 and 1969) and in English (A Life Together, The Memoirs of Catherine Károly, Alan & Unwinn, London, 1966, 343pp.), with her Adams portrait adorning the dust jacket of the English edition. Katinka Károlyi died in Antibes in 1985. Based on her memoirs, her eventful life was also made into a film: "The Red Countess" a Hungarian film from 1985 (directed by András Kovács).

Adams' Portrait of Countess Karolyi is one of Adams' major works both because of the prominence of the sitter, her dazzling biography, and its execution. The depiction deliberately alludes to Jaques-Luis David's Madame Recamier portrait to refer to the sitter's beauty and political role. The painting was created in Adams' studio in Vienna during the turbulent last year of the war, probably in connection with a visit by the Countess to her uncle/stepfather and foreign minister Count Gyula Andrássy Jr. It is unclear whether the portrait was a commissioned work for the Karolyi's, which could not be delivered due to the precipitating political events and the exile of the Karolyi's, or whether Adams made the portrait on his own initiative and at his own expense (which he often did). In any case, this major work remained in the artist's possession and passed from his estate to his son-in-law and the stepmother of his two granddaughters, with whom it remained until 1986/87. After the Adams exhibition, it was put up for auction at Christies in London (auction 26.6.1987 lot 88) to cover the care costs of Adams' granddaughter Nina in Belgium (same procedure as for the portrait Madame de Portas, see its entry). The painting was auctioned again shortly thereafter at Sothebys New York (auction 28.2.1990 lot 120), where it was acquired by the present owner. The painting is housed in a chateau in France, which means that the portrait has found a home in France, as has the Countess in her exile.

Sources used:
J. Temnitz Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 15, No. 3/4 (1969), pp. 376-383.
Wikipedia entry Michael Karolyi
Entry Michael Karolyi at Austrian Commanders
P. Lendvai: Die Ungarn – Eine tausendjährige Geschichte (Hungary - A 1000 year History). Verlag Goldmann, München 2001.


1918 Künstlerhaus Vienna Fall Exhibition 17.11.1918-20.12.1918 (no entry in logbook)

1986 Academy Schillerplatz Vienna 1986, Viennese Society in Portrait, Catalog No. 43.


Schaffer/Eisenburger 1986, exhibition catalog #43 (w. B/W ill.)

APH, catalog raisonné JQA 1995, p. 167, cat.#135, ill.#92.


Estate of the artist.
Until 1987 Frank family (relatives of the artist), Vienna.
Auction Christies London 26.6.1987 lot 88.
Auction Soethebys New York 28.2.1990 lot 120.
Private collection, France.