PIUS XI, Pope (1922/1933)

A replica of the 1922 picture. Oil on canvas, 50” x 40” (127 x 101.6 cm), signed and dated lower left ‘A. Muller-Ury Vaticano 1933’.

Historisches Museum, Gotthardstrasse 18, Altdorf, Canton Uri, Switzerland. (INV. 118)

New York Mirror, April 21, 1937
New York Herald Tribune, April 25, 1937
New York Times, April 25, 1937
Karl Iten, URI: Die Kunst- und Kulturlandschaft am Weg zum Gotthard, Altdorf, 1991, p.242 (reproduced in colour)

WILDENSTEIN & CO. INC., 19, East 64th Street, New York, April 20 – May 4, 1937, No. 1
FRENCH & CO. INC., 210, East 57th Street, New York, April 21 – May 3, 1947, No. 3.

Achilles Ambrose Damian Ratti was born on May 31, 1857. He was elected Pope on February 6, 1922 and died on February 10, 1939.

The Duluth Herald, Monday July 17, 1922, announced AMERICAN ARTIST WILL PAINT POPE’S PORTRAIT on its front page, and that the artist (photographed) had sailed on the Berengaria recently with a commission to paint the Pope. Muller-Ury arrived in Rome to paint his first portraits of Pope Pius XI on September 1, 1922, and started work on them ten days later. He left Rome on October 11, 1922. At this time he executed three pictures of the Pope. In March 1923 the Pope created Muller-Ury a Knight of St. Gregory the Great.

The picture in Altdorf was sent to Switzerland by Otto Müller after the artist’s death in 1947. Muller-Ury may have painted this replica of the 1922 portrait for exhibition purposes, perhaps left it incomplete, and then finished it in 1933 (his diary for that year does not record a visit to Rome). It must be the work exhibited in 1937 and 1947 since only one portrait of Pius XI was returned to Switzerland after his death. The New York Mirror, April 21, 1937 whilst calling the picture exhibited at Wildenstein’s ‘amazing’ adds that ‘It is the latest picture the Pontiff posed for and was completed late last summer.’ However, this cannot be true; and, in any case, the artist was not in Italy in 1936.