One of only two known works of the ‘mad painter of the Carpathians’ Szolnoky Laszlo, the “Sepia Woman” depicts an upper-class woman dressed in clothing appropriate for an upper-class Vienna woman circa 1840. It is unknown if this woman modeled for Szolnoky–considering his brutal painting methods, one rather doubts it–but it seems clear that he used some sort of reference, whether it was another painting, a manikin, or even an early daguerreotype. The woman’s distant expression and the many questions surrounding its provenance have attracted intense interest to the present day, up to and including otherwise unfounded speculation that Szolnoky painted the woman with her own blood.

The “Sepia Woman” was saved from the emperor’s purge of Szolnoky’s works because it had been sold to a wealthy merchant in Stuttgart, and the king there declined the emperor’s demand that it be surrendered; in fact, intrigued by its provenance, the king confiscated the work for his own collection. It was during this period that the only surviving high-quality photographs were taken of the work.

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