Baron Van Westreenen
PORTRAIT OF BARON VAN WESTREENEN
Only one photograph of Baron van Westreenen (1783-1848) is known, a daguerreotype made in Paris in 1841. In it the baron appears somewhat unfavourably, with a large head on a pair of far too slight shoulders. He is represented much more flatteringly in the portrait he commissioned from J.R. Post Brants around 1839.
The aim of this portrait was to convey the baron’s status and prestige, and for this reason he pinned on all his decorations. There are no fewer than twelve: two on the left breast, three on a wide neck ribbon and seven on the left lapel. We see for example the Russian Saint Anne Star, the Tuscan Order of Saint Stephan and the Saxony-Weimar Order of the White Falcon.
Even long after his death, Van Westreenen’s vanity gave occasion for ridicule. For instance, Het Leeskabinet recorded in 1896 that ‘when the collector had obtained yet another new decoration and verbally asked the king’s permission to wear it, the monarch was said to have replied, not without a sense of humour, This is a matter between your ceremonial dress suit and your tailor, baron; if there is space for it, all the better, but I fear…’
In the most important publication about the baron and his museum, the 1998 anniversary volume, W.A. Laseur writes ‘At times one might almost be led to conclude from the images that the fifteen decorations the baron vainly wore on his breast were his most cherished collection.’
Nevertheless, this portrait contains a mistake, either on the part of the baron or the painter. The Cross of the Order of St John should hang from a black ribbon and the Saint Anne Star from a red one but here they are the wrong way around. In the daguerreotype the baron also wore decorations, but there we only see two.