Count Leopold Berchtold 1917

Half portrait in side view, sitting in a fief chair, his head raised and his gaze directed into the distance, his delicate hands placed on the left knee of his crossed legs. The sitter wears an upper lip beard and is dressed in a field gray uniform with field beret with the rank insignia of a Rittmeister (captain). On his chest he wears a medal clasp, on the lapel, a white-black-white medal ribbon and the Habsburg House Order of the Golden Fleece.

JQAW# P_1917_040
Oil on canvas 97 x 85 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams 1917.
Private collection Austria.

Count Leopold Berchtold, 18.4.1863 Vienna to 21.11.1942 Peresznye (Prössing) near Köszeg (HU), diplomat and k.u.k. Foreign Minister, one of the key players in the outbreak of the First World War. See his entries in the OeBL und in der German Biography as well as the references.

Leopold Anton Johann Sigismund Joseph Korsinus Ferdinand Graf Berchtold, Freiherr von und zu Ungerschitz, Fratting und Pullitz was born in Vienna on 18.4.1863. He is a typical representative of the k.u.k. Monarchy, with extensive knowledge of languages (German, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, but also French and Russian), extensive estates with sumptuous castles in several parts of the Monarchy and correspondingly fluid nationalities. The Berchtold family originally came from Tyrol, but is alternately described as Bohemian-Moravian, Slovakian, Hungarian, or Austrian. Leopold grew up at Buchlovice (Buchlau) Castle in Moravia and received private education. In 1887 he entered the civil service, and from 1893 he served in the diplomatic service at the embassies of Paris, London, and St. Petersburg. From 1906-1911 he was Austrian ambassador in St. Petersburg. In 1908, he arranged a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia and Austria-Hungary that led to the Buchlau Agreement, in which Russia agreed to Austria's annexation of Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire. This was Count Berchtold's most significant diplomatic success. In February 1912 he was appointed foreign minister against his will (he did not consider himself up to the position), a post he held until his resignation in January 1915. As "compensation", so to speak, he received the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1912.

As foreign minister, Count Leopold Berchtold took on a difficult post. For decades, the diplomacy of the monarchy was characterized by passivity and the desire to maintain the status quo, and even by a certain defeatism on the part of the Viennese elites, who no longer wanted to believe in the continued existence of the multiethnic monarchy. Because of his personality, his insecurity, and also his dependence on the staff of the Foreign Office (who would later prove to be outright warmongers), Berchtold chose a cautious policy, sought consensus among/with many advisors (including Prince Montenuovo), and "muddled through" in the best (infamous) k.u.k. tradition. However, this approach was not really appropriate to the situation in the Balkans, which had increasingly become explosive since the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Crises (Scutari in 1913) and local wars (First and Second Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913) were the harbingers of the First World War.

After the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the situation came to a head. The broad consensus among the Viennese elites was to wage a limited war against Serbia as a kind of "liberation blow" from the decades-long policy of passivity. Berchtold (under the influence of his cabinet chief Count Hoyos) also leaned toward this view. Only Count Tisza, the Hungarian prime minister, who feared for Hungary's territorial integrity (fears that were to prove realistic in 1918/19), urged caution. As a compromise, an ultimatum to Serbia was agreed upon. This 10-point ultimatum, drafted by Berchtold, was complied with by Serbia on 9 points, but the lack of complete acceptance by Serbia nevertheless prompted Austria to declare war on July 28, 1914. This declaration of war was diplomatically completely inadequately prepared (only the ally Germany was informed in advance and unconditionally supported the Austrian position) and subsequently led to a chain reaction of striking a number of mutual alliance commitments of European powers as well as Russia, turning a planned limited Serbian war into the conflagration of the First World War. The end result is well known. The demise of the Monarchy, the German and Russian Empires, and the Ottoman Empire; drastic territorial losses by Austria and Hungary to the newly created nation-states; and some 10 million soldiers killed (plus 20 million wounded) and some 7 million civilian deaths (S. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of World War I. ABC-CLIO, 2005).

Disagreements over Italy's territorial demands (as the price of maintaining its neutral position), which the emperor flatly refused (Berchtold, however, wanted to concede to avoid an additional front), ultimately led to Berchtold's resignation as foreign minister on Jan. 13, 1915. (The refusal to accommodate Italy ultimately led to Italy's declaration of war on Austria in May 1915 and the opening of additional fronts in the Dolomites and the carnage of the 12 Isonzo battles with over 1 million dead). Berchtold then enlisted at the front, where he received a war decoration (3rd Class Cross of Merit), but soon returned to Vienna where in 1916 he became Chief Steward and Chief Chamberlain of emperor Karl. Significantly, he had himself portrayed by Adams in field uniform and avoided being portrayed (like Alfred Prince Montenuovo, see his Adams portrait) in the pompous court uniform of the Chief Chamberlain. After the war he lived as a privateer on his estates in western Hungary, where he also died in 1942 as Lipód Berchtold. He is buried in the family grave in Buchlovice (CZ).

Count Leopold Berchtold married on 25.1.1893 in Budapest Ferdinandine Countess Károlyi (1868-1955). The marriage was blessed with three sons: Aloys (Alois/"Luis" 1894-1977, see his Adams portrait, cross-references) , Adalbert/Bela (1895-1906) and Sigismund/Szige (1900-1979), whose wider family descendants have preserved the portrait. As a person, Leopold Count Berchtold is described as a soigné, subtle, tactful and educated grand seigneur. "In his life, which was accompanied by hunting, equestrian sports, women and the enjoyment of art, he [however] did not grasp the the ultimate political reality. A rich and not untalented aristocrat, had been destined, during a relatively short stretch of his life, to a position to which he was not equal" (Reisewitz, 1955).


1917 Künstlerhaus Vienna, collective exhibition John Quincy Adams No. 3 (EL 61 1916/17 #539).

1986 Academy Schillerplatz Vienna, Viennese Society in Portrait, catalog no. 42 (no ill.)


Schaffer/Eisenburger 1986, exhibition catalog #42 (no ill.)

APH, catalog raisonné JQA 1995, p.159, cat.#127, no ill.

J.A. von Reichwitz, 1955, Neue Deutsche Biographie 2 (1955), S. 65-66

Hugo Hantsch, 1963, Leopold Graf Berchtold. Styria, Graz. 1963.


His family descendants,
Private collection Austria.