Franz Xaver Winterhalter (20 April 1805 – 8 July 1873) was a German painter who became one of the leading court portraitists of the 19th century. His skill at creating a flattering likeness of royals earned him a reputation as a specialist in dynastic and aristocratic portraiture. His paintings have captured how the royalty of Europe dressed.
Countess Olga Shuvalova
He was not only skilled at posing his sitters to create almost theatrical compositions, but also was a master in the art of conveying the texture of fabrics, furs and jewellery, to which he paid no less attention than to the face.
Elizabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria by Franz Xavier Winterhalter
He originally trained as a draughtsman and lithographer but at the age of 18 went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. He found a mentor in the fashionable portraitist Joseph Stieler and Winterhalter entered court circles when in 1828 he became drawing master to Sophie Margravine of Baden.
Louise Marie, the first Queen of the Belgians
His career as a portrait painter was secured when he painted Louise Marie of Orleans, Queen of the Belgians.
Eugénie de Montijo
In Paris, Winterhalter quickly became fashionable. He was appointed court painter of Louis-Philippe, the king of the French, who commissioned him to paint individual portraits of his large family. Winterhalter would execute more than thirty commissions for him.
Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales
This success earned the painter the reputation of a specialist in dynastic and aristocratic portraiture, skilled in combining likeness with flattery and enlivening official pomp with modern fashion.
Queen Olga of Württemberg.
Winterhalter himself regarded his first royal commissions as a temporary intermission before returning to subject painting and the field of academic respectability.
He was a victim of his own success and for the rest of his life he would work almost exclusively as a portrait painter. This was a field in which he was not only very successful but also made him rich. Winterhalter became an international celebrity enjoying Royal patronage.
The Young Queen Victoria.
Among his many regal sitters was Queen Victoria. Winterhalter first visited England in 1842, and returned several times to paint Victoria, Prince Albert and their growing family, painting at least 120 works for them, a large number of which remain in the Royal Collection, on display to the public at Buckingham Palace and other royal residences.
Winterhalter also painted a few portraits of the aristocracy in England, mostly members of court circles.
Princess Mathilde Bonaparte
After the accession of Napoleon III, his popularity grew. From then on, under the Second Empire, Winterhalter became the chief portraitist of the imperial family and court of France.
Empress Eugénie surrounded by her ladies in waiting
The beautiful French Empress Eugénie became a favorite sitter and she treated him generously. In 1855 Winterhalter painted his masterpiece: The Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting. He set the French Empress in a pastoral setting gathering flowers in a harmonious circle with her ladies in waiting. The painting was acclaimed, and exhibited in the universal exposition in 1855. It remains Winterhalter’s most famous work.
Princess Tatiana Yussupova, née Ribаuрiеrrе
In 1852, he went to Spain to paint Queen Isabella II with her daughter, Infanta Maria-Isabel. Russian aristocratic visitors to Paris also liked to have their portraits executed by the famous master. As the “Painter of Princes”, Winterhalter was thereafter in constant demand by the courts of Britain (from 1841), Spain, Belgium, Russia, Mexico, the German courts, and France.
Empress Maria Alexandrovna
During the 1850s and 1860s, Winterhalter painted a number of important portraits of Polish and Russian aristocrats. In 1857, he painted the portrait of Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna.
Charlotte of Belgium, Empress of Mexico
During the Second Mexican Empire in the 1860s, headed by Maximilian I of Mexico, Winterhalter was commissioned to paint portraits of the Imperial couple. The Empress consort of Mexico, Charlotte of Belgium was the daughter of Louise-Marie of France, Queen of the Belgians, who Winterhalter painted at the beginning of his career in France.
Some of Winterhalter’s paintings of the Mexican monarchs still remain in their Mexico City palace, Chapultepec Castle, now the National Museum of History.
Augusta von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, Empress of Germany & Queen of Prussia
To deal with those pressuring for portrait commissions, many of whom were calling for multiple replicas, Winterhalter made extensive use of assistants. No portrait painter had ever enjoyed such an extraordinary royal patronage as Winterhalter; only Rubens and Van Dyck worked as he did in an international network.
Princess Maria Carolina Augusta of Bourbon
Winterhalter painted his best work during the last two decades of his life and. He matched his style to the luxury and relaxed atmosphere of the age, its hedonism and gaiety.
Maria Hendrika of Belgium.
Winterhalter never received high praise for his work from serious critics, being constantly accused of superficiality and affectation in pursuit of popularity. However, he was highly appreciated by his aristocratic patrons.
Victoire, Duchess of Nemours.
Today his paintings are exhibited in leading European and American museums enabling us to study the fashion of the time.
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