Franz Winterhalter is one of my most favorite painters, his delicate, feminine, and luxurious portraits paint an intimate picture of 19th century high society. My love for Winterhalter, coupled with a recent exhibit I saw of his work at the MFA Houston called “High Society: The Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter,” inspired this post. The exhibit was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen in any museum in the world. I visited the exhibit multiple times and became even more fascinated with not only the paintings but also the man who painted them.
The exhibit, containing mostly portraits, was a sumptuous display of the grandeur and over-the-top elegance of royal and aristocratic Europe in the 1800s. The paintings display his most beautiful and influential subjects wearing gargantuan diamonds, sumptuous fabrics and furs, and couture gowns. My interest was not only piqued by the obvious display of opulence and glamor, but also the refined elegance and subtle intimacy of the portraits, a delicate balance that Winterhalter achieved in all his paintings. His unique take on Neo-Rococo style spoke to the hedonistic and indulgent life-styles lived by his subjects, yet his depictions remain romantic and refined.
Franz Winterhalter is without a doubt one of the most significant portrait artists of the 19th century and is especially known for his portraits of women. Although he started out as an unknown German lithographer, similar to a print-maker, he made his foray into portraiture when he secured a position doing the portraits of the German royal family. He quickly became a known and lauded portrait artist because of his ability to portray his subjects with such understated intimacy and sensuality.
Winterhalter soon became famous for his portraits of aristocratic and royal women. His ability to capture the essence of each woman allowed him to produce some of the most non-traditional and intimate portraits at the time. His unique attention to detail brought his famous subjects to life–the fabrics have a 3-Dimensional looking texture, the jewels sparkle as if they are really there, and the faces look like pictures. Winterhalter’s talent for beautiful portraits made him famous in the courts from Paris to Vienna, and the lithographic copies of his portraits made him a celebrity artist worldwide.
But to understand the full beauty and excellence of Winterhalters’ portraits, one must look at them in person. I highly recommend going to see the MFA Houston exhibit of his work which is on view until August 14th.
Pictures via Pinterest