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High Society, Royalty and Aristocracy, Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter, Commissioned by Kings and Queens of Europe in the 19th Century: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Very Important to See!

, High Society, Royalty and Aristocracy, Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter, Commissioned by Kings and Queens of Europe in the 19th Century: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Very Important to See!

Franz X. Winterhalter, Princess Leonilla of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, 1843, oil on canvas, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

 

High Society, Royalty and Aristocracy, Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter, Commissioned by Kings and Queens of Europe in the 19th Century: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Very Important to See!

 

 

 

Dr. Helga K Aurisch,  curator European Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston MFAH, in front of Pauline Sándor, Princess Metternich

Dr. Helga K Aurisch, curator European Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston MFAH, in front of Pauline Sándor, Princess Metternich

 

 

What was the amazing talent, which allowed one artist to become the most renowned portraitist of the courts of Europe of the 19th century? Why was he sought after by the kings, queens, and other members of the royal families, aristocracy and high society, to paint their likenesses, which would immortalize them, and tell their stories to the world for centuries to come?  What was it that caused entire royal families to commission and trust artist Franz X. Winterhalter to visually convey to the world the impression they wanted to give?  To obtain insight into these questions, and much more, one must visit  “High Society: The Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter,” a major and important survey exhibit of Renowned 19th-Century European Aristocratic Portraitist Franz Winterhalter, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), from April 17, 2016 to August 14, 2016.

 

Franz X. Winterhalter, Édouard André, 1857, oil on canvas, Musée Jacquemart-André, Institut de France, Paris. © Culturespaces–Musée Jacquemart-André

Franz X. Winterhalter, Édouard André, 1857, oil on canvas, Musée Jacquemart-André, Institut de France, Paris. © Culturespaces–Musée Jacquemart-André

 

 

The stunning exhibit is made possible because of the dedication of Dr. Helga K Aurisch, curator of European Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Mr. Gary Tinterow, Director of the museum, and many other individuals, who worked for over 5 years to make this exhibit a success. The exhibition was originally conceived by Helga Kessler Aurisch, who worked closely with her colleagues Laure Chabanne, curator at the Palais de Compiegne, and Miria Straub, curatorial assistant to the director of the Augustinermuseum Stadtische Museen Freiburg.   In fact, works of artist Winterhalter were drawn from over 35 public, private, and royal collections around the world.  Lenders include Hearst Castle, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The J Paul Getty Museum, Lord Middleton, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musee’ d’ Orsay, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Royal Collection Trust London, and others.  His brilliant portraits of European royalty still grace the walls of Buckingham Palace, the Vienna Hofburg, the Palacio Real in Madrid, Het Loo in Holland, and Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City.  Artist.com met with the curators Helga Aurisch, Laure Chabanne, and Miria Straub, and was impressed by the devotion and patience which this massive project required, taking over 5 years, and over 50 people to complete.  The insights which Dr. Aurisch has into not only the skills and talents of artist Winterhalter, but also how his artistic gift weaved into the history, politics and economics of the 19th century is itself extremely insightful.  The massive research and significant insights of theirs are published in the catalogue  “High Society: The Portraits of Franz Xaver Winterhalter.”  This fully illustrated catalogue includes essays by Helga Kessler Aurisch, Tilmann von Stockhausen, Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, Laure Chabanne, Mirja Straub, and Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and it features a selection of Winterhalter’s portraits, along with images of clothing by Worth.  Publicist Laine Lieberman and her group at the MFAH have done a wonderful job in bringing awareness and education to the public, about this exhibit.

 

Franz X. Winterhalter, Madame Rimsky-Korsakov, 1864, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on permanent loan from the Louvre.

Franz X. Winterhalter, Madame Rimsky-Korsakov, 1864, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on permanent loan from the Louvre.

 

 

The exhibit “High Society: The Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter,” is a collection of approximately 45 paintings by Franz Winterhalter (1805-1873), and is complemented by a number of garments fashioned by sought after 19th century courtier Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895), and several of his contemporaries.  It has been said that throughout his career, artist Winterhalter captured the elegance of his aristocratic sitters with an unrivalled brilliance of technique and sensitivity and touch.  Winterhalter was celebrated by royal and aristocratic sitters not only for his formidable skill as a portraitist who painted outstanding likenesses, but also for his rare ability to infuse those paintings with a lasting image of the splendor which characterized the courts of Europe during their most opulent era.

 

Franz X. Winterhalter, Pauline Sándor, Princess Metternich, 1860, oil on canvas, private collection.

Franz X. Winterhalter, Pauline Sándor, Princess Metternich, 1860, oil on canvas, private collection.

 

 

According to Gary Tinterow, MFAH director, “while each of the monarchs, noblemen and women were frequently photographed during their reigns, it is often a Winterhalter portrait that provides the strongest impression of those individuals, magnificent images that still ring true today. Like van Dyck before him, and John Singer Sargent afterwards, Winterhalter had an uncanny gift for noble portraiture.” 

 

Franz X. Winterhalter, Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël von Holstein, c. 1857–58, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

Franz X. Winterhalter, Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël von Holstein, c. 1857–58, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

 

 

Helga Aurisch, curator states “Winterhalter had an extraordinary talent in capturing the likeness of his subject and in evoking the sensuousness of skin, hair, and luxurious fabrics…. This exhibition places his work in direct comparison with actual costumes from the period, which brings new insight into his use and interpretation of fashion, a factor of utmost importance to his success as the ultimate painter of the high society.”

 

Charles Frederick Worth, Evening Bodice and Skirt, c. 1866–68, yellow silk satin with lace and tulle, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Charles Frederick Worth, Evening Bodice and Skirt, c. 1866–68, yellow silk satin with lace and tulle, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

 

During our exhibit preview discussion, Curator Aurisch also explained to us that Winterhalter had a rare ability to paint different textures, tones and hues of the solid colors black and white, a skill with which it is very difficult for any other artists to compare.  Most of the dresses which the female subjects of his paintings wore, were solid in color, so as not to detract from the intricacies of the folds, creases and wrinkles of the flowing garments.  She also explained that the portions of the body which were painted were related to the subjects relative importance on the aristocratic scale, and full length portraits were generally done only for high royalty. 

 

As Helga Aurisch relates in “High Society The Portraits of Franz Xaver Winterhalter,”  the extent of artist Winterhalter’s success was “unprecedented and unrivaled. None of the renowned court painters before him—neither Titian (1488/90 1576), nor Peter Paul Rubens (1577– 1640), nor Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), all of whom he admired greatly—served as many sovereigns as Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and no portraitist during his own lifetime even approached his international fame. So much in demand was he that the art critic Arthur Stevens quipped; “Every august head appears to require consecration by Winterhalter’s brush.”  To this day, his portraits of European rulers grace the walls of palaces, castles, and great houses, as well the galleries of major museums from Los Angeles to St. Petersburg.”  Helga Aurisch adds “Winterhalter’s success was founded on his extraordinary talent in capturing a likeness, in evoking the sensuousness of skin and hair and of luxurious fabrics and refined settings, and, most important, in his ability to paint his clients as they wished to see themselves.”

 

Franz X. Winterhalter, Empress Eugénie (Eugénie de Montijo, Condesa de Teba) in 18th-Century Costume, 1854, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Franz X. Winterhalter, Empress Eugénie (Eugénie de Montijo, Condesa de Teba) in 18th-Century Costume, 1854, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

 

Artist Winterhalter was born in 1805 in the small village of Menzenschwand, Germany.  Winterhalter’s talents were discovered at an early age by a teacher who encouraged his training as a draughtsman and lithographer in nearby Freiburg.  In 1823, he moved to Munich, to study at the art academy, as well as with  Joseph Karl Stieler, a renowned portraitist and court painter to the Bavarian king. This likely sparked his love for portraiture of the aristocracy.  In 1834, Grand Duke Leopold of Karlsruhe, Germany, appointed him as his court painter.  Soon after, he moved to Paris, and shortly thereafter, King Louis-Philippe made him court painter.  More than 30 of the paintings he created, of the French Royal family, remain in Versailles, but are on exhibit at the MFAH during this exhibit.  Over the next few years, Winterhalter traveled to England, and became the preferred portraitist of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, creating over 120 portraits for the queen over the next 20 years.  The demand for Winterhalter’s work grew so significantly that he traveled extensively throughout Europe to Spain, Belgium, England, Switzerland and Germany.  Among the royalty he painted were Emperor Franz Joseph, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the Czarina of Russia, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France, Queen Isabella II of Spain, among many other aristocrats across Europe.  In 1870, with the fall of France’s Second Empire, artist Winterhalter’s position as court painter ended.  He returned to his native Baden, and died two years later. 

 

 

Even though Winterhalter achieved worldwide recognition and demand while alive, after he died, his name became all but forgotten until a 1987 exhibition organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Petit Palais, Paris.  The current exhibit “High Society” at the MFAH, includes works not shown in the earlier retrospective. 

 

Franz X. Winterhalter, Swiss Girl from Interlaken, 1840s, oil on canvas, private collection.

Franz X. Winterhalter, Swiss Girl from Interlaken, 1840s, oil on canvas, private collection.

 

 

Artist.com thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully coordinated and educationally rich exhibition of exquisitely beautiful paintings, which will forever have an important place in the world of art and history.  It will be a delight to return to the exhibit to refresh the visual delight which the eyes and mind experience, when gazing at and taking in the splendor of these masterpieces. One is left with 1) a sense of the extraordinary skill and gift of artist Winterhalter, 2) an appreciation of the capacity of a painting to tell much more than still features of anatomy, but rather to tell a story of what the subject wanted to convey, 3) a sense of what the lives were like, an intimate window into the world of the most powerful royalty of the 19th century, and 4) a sense of the geopolitical and economic European world of the 19th century.  It is a rare experience and opportunity to intimately mingle with the works of an artist who catered to the royal and aristocratic families.  Artist.com strongly advises that anyone who has the opportunity, take advantage of visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to see High Society.

 

www.Artist.com   would like to extend a warm thanks and congratulations to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, for coordinating such an extraordinary, insightful and educational exhibit.  The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, was founded in 1900, and is among the ten largest museums in the United States.  This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Städtische Museen Freiburg; the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, Paris; and the Musée national du Palais de Compiègne.  Lead underwriting was provided by the Kinder Foundation.  Visit http://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/high-society-portraits-franz-x-winterhalter/ for more information.

 

Keywords: Franz Winterhalter, portraits, museum, Houston, MFAH, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, high society, aristocratic, art, fine art, royal, painter