Mary Vetsera’s friendship album affords an unusually rich insight into the mindset of aristocratic youth at the end of the 19th century. This unique historic document will be auctioned at Dorotheum in June.
During the 1880s, there was a craze amongst Austria’s aristocratic youth for filling out friendship albums, a fashion which had originated in England. These albums included pre-printed questions to be filled out by friends, creating a series of small autobiographical profiles. Mary Vetsera, who was born 150 years ago this year, was the owner of an album such as this at the age of 14, and in it she united around twenty profiles from her circle of friends and family.
Mary Vetsera’s circle of friends
Alongside the entries of her siblings Feri and Hanna, it contains contributions from friends, mostly members of noble families, including well-known names such as Metternich, Hoyos, Schönborn, Salm and Kinsky. The composition of the young Baroness’s circle of friends in the mid 1880s reflects the acceptance the Vetsera family had found amongst the ranks of Austrian aristocracy following her father’s elevation to the rank of Baron. The family’s fortunes were of course to change dramatically in 1889 with the tragedy of Mayerling, when the double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, put an abrupt end to the family’s social ambitions.
Insight into the mind-set of aristocratic youth in the late 19th century
The album, presented by Mary to her friends in happier days, contains 25 questions, the answers to which offer interesting insights into the personalities, characters, and interests of her contributors. Questions were asked about characteristics, favourite occupation, main character trait, ideas of happiness and unhappiness, but also about favourite composers, favourite historical heroines and favourite foods: “Who would you rather be?” was answered with “A beautiful horse” (Hanna Vetsera), “Nobody” (Julie Mittrowsky), “A man” (Ida Hoyos), and “A great artist” (Anna Schönborn). Other questions and answers: “Which profession do you think is the best?” – “Street sweeper” (Gaby Podstatzky); “Your idea of misfortune?” – “Being an imbecile” (Amelie Podstatzky); “Your motto?” – “A Viennese never gives up” (Lily Kinsky). The answers, some of which are brilliantly witty, make Mary Vetsera’s friendship album a exceptionally interesting witness to the past and offers a deep insight into the mind-set of aristocratic youth in the late 19th century.