Franz Xaver Winterhalter – Brief Biographical Outline

Brief Biographical Outline

Portrait of F.X. Winterhalter by Queen Victoria or Prince Albert

 Franz Xaver Winterhalter, c. 1850s

by Queen Victoria or Prince Albert

Oil on canvas, 47 x 40.6 cm, HM Queen Elizabeth II




Franz Xaver Winterhalter was born on 20 April 1805 in a picturesque Black Forest town, Menzenschwand, in the former ecclesiastical fiefdom of St Blasien, which after the Secularisation of 1806 was absorbed into the Grand Duchy of Baden. He was the seventh child of Fidel (1773-1863) and Eva Winterhalter (née Mayer, 1765-1838), whom the artist’s early biographers describe as land-owning farmers and inn keepers, but who the more recent biographers claim as having been armen Bauern (poor peasants).

 Before 1818

Winterhalter received primary education and elementary instruction in drawing from Pastor Joseph Berthold Liber (1781-1854), a former Benedictine monk and an art lover, who was able to salvage numerous works of art from St Blasien monastery, where he was a monk until its secularisation in 1806, and place them within the newly erected church and adjoining parish school in Menzenschwand.


On the advice of Pastor Liber, Fidel Winterhalter raised the necessary 400 Gulden for board and tuition in order to enrol the twelve-year-old Franz Xaver, in the autumn of 1818, at the Freiburg-im-Bresgau studio of the artist and printmaker Karl Ludwig Schuler (1785-1852).


Within a year, Schuler’s studio merged with that of Bartholomäus Herder (1774-1839), the proprietor of a respected lithographic and publishing institution, and an acquaintance of Pastor Liber, whom he met while studying at the St Blasien monastery from 1792 to 1794. Franz Xaver is joined there the following year by his brother, Hermann.


Leaves Herder early in 1823, and after a brief sojourn in Menzenschwand, moves to Munich in spring of the same year, where he commenced working on lithographs for such leading printmakers of the day as Ludwig Albert von Montmorillon (1794-1854), Ferdinand Piloty (1786-1844), and Joseph Selb (1784-1832); further income was derived from portrait drawings. Hermann Winterhalter joins his brother in Munich in 1824.

024i 25 Winterhalter after Bordone 1825 – 1826

Through the mediation of David Seligmann Freiherr von Eichthal (1755-1850), Karlsruhe-based industrialist and philanthropist (who may have met Winterhalter family through Pastor Liber, the shell of whose former monastery was occupied by the baron’s spinning mills), the annual stipend of 200 Gulden was allocated by  Ludwig I, Grand Duke of Baden (1763-1830) enabling Winterhalter to pursue academic training at the Munich Academy of Arts. He begins receiving instruction in portrait and oil painting from Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858), a celebrated portrait painter and honorary Academy member, and produces lithographs after his portraits of the Bavarian Royal Family.


The artist completes his studies at the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in the summer of 1827,  travells to Landshut, Regensburg, Nürenberg, Pommersfelden, and other towns, sightseeing, drawing, and undertaking portrait commissions; returns to Munich.


Lives in Munich, continues working in lithography and undertakes further portrait commissions, including those of Freiherr von Eichthal and his wife; through von Eichthal’s mediation appointed  drawing master to the family of Ludwig I’s morganatic half-brother, Leopold Graf von Hochberg (future Grand Duke of Baden, 1790-1852).


Lives in Munich and travels regularly to the Grand Ducal Court at Karlstuhe; executes portrait drawings of Sophie Wilhelmine von Hochberg (future Grand Duchess of Baden) and other members of the Grand Ducal family.


Moves to Karlsruhe, lodges with Dr J.A. Wich; paints portraits of Karl Spindler, Joseph Berckmuller, Luise Fries, and others.


Paints at the court of Baden, portraits include the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Baden, their children, and other members of the family. 


Paints the Grand Duchess of Baden with her son, Prince Wilhelm; received a study grant from the Grand Duke; leaves to study in Italy; visits Rome, Ariccia, Orvieto, Capri, Tivoli, etc.


Studies in Rome, address recorded as Caffe Greco, via Condotta; shares his studio with J.B. Kirner; travels to Naples and Venice; produces several albums of sketches and watercolours, and the Roman Genre Scene.


Returns to Karlsruhe in August; appointed Court Painter to the Grand Duke of Baden and paints the portrait of his daughter, Alexandrine, the future Duchess of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha, and of Freiherr von Eichtal; in December leaves forParis.


Works in Paris (17 rue des Petits Augustins); exhibits for the first time at the Salon.


Works in Paris (15 rue des Petits Augustins); exhibits at the Salon, paintings include Il Dolce Farniente.


Works in Paris, exhibits Decameron at the Salon, paints Mme Delong and her children, Graf Jenison-Walworth and Prince de Wagram.


Works in Paris (34 rue de Lille); exhibits among others the portrait of the Prince de Wagram and his daughter at the Salon, receives his first commissions from Louis-Philippe, King of the French, and paints Princesse Clémentine and the Queen of the Belgians with her son. The latter painting is sent to Queen Victoria as a present and becomes the first painting by the artist in the Queen’s possession.


Works in Paris (1 rue de Labruyère); exhibits at the Salon; paints the King of the French, the King of the Belgians, the Duchesse d’Orléans with her son, the Dukes de Nemours and d’Aumale, the Duke and Duchess of Württemberg; awarded the Knight of the Légion d’Honneur and the Knight of the Order of the King Leopold I; joined in Paris by Albert Graefle (1807-89), who becomes his studio assistant until 1845.


Works in Paris, joined by his brother Hermann and paints a self-portrait with his brother; paints the King of the Belgians, the Duchesse de Nemours and the Duchesse de Vallombrosa; awarded Cross of the Commander of the Order of King Leopold I.


Works in Paris, exhibits at the Salon; paints the King of the French, the Queen of the Belgians, the Queen of Spain, the Maréchal Sébastiani and Comtesse Duchâtel with her son; Queen Victoria purchases La Siesta.


Works inParis, exhibits at the Salon; receives his first commission from Queen Victoria and travels to London to paint the Queen and Prince Albert; also paints the Queen of the French, Madame Adélaïde, the Duc d’Orléans, the Comte de Paris, and the Duchess of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.


Works in Paris and London, exhibits at the Salon; paints state portraits of QueenVictoria and Prince Albert, also paints the Duchess of Kent, the Duke de Nemours, the Prince de Joinville, the Duke of Beaufort and the Fürstin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn.


Works in Paris (29 rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette) and London, exhibits at the Salon; paints the large-scale Reception of King Louis-Philippe at Windsor Castle, paints children of the King and Queen of the Belgians, Princesse de Joinville and Duc de Montpensier.


Works in Paris and London, paints Louis Philippe Receiving Queen Victoria at the Château d’Eu, also paints the King of the French, QueenVictoria and Prince Albert.


Works in Paris and London, exhibits both large-scale Reception paintings at the Salon; paints The Royal Family, as well as separate full-length portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales in a Sailor Suit; paints the King of the Belgians, Princess Augusta of Prussia, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Duchesse d’Aumale and Princesse de Joinville.


Works in Paris and London, exhibits The Royal Family at St James’s Palace in London; paints QueenVictoria, Duchesse de Montpensier, and Prince August von Sachsen-Coburg undGotha.


At the outbreak of the February Revolution and the abdication of Louis-Philippe, Winterhalter leaves Paris and works in England, Belgium and Switzerland, paints Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna of Russia.


Works predominantly in England, paints Queen Adelaide, numerous portraits of QueenVictoria’s children, Duchess of Kent and Duchess of Cambridge, British aristocracy (including the Duchess of Sutherland), Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Fürst and Fürstin von Sachsen-Meiningen; also works in Belgium; returns to Paris towards the end of the year.


Works in Paris and London, travels to Karlsruhe; created member of Akademie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Amsterdam; paints Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, future Queen of Prussia, Duchess of Gloucester, and Fürst zu Leiningen, QueenVictoria’s half-brother.


Works in Paris and London; paints The First of May, children of QueenVictoria, and of Prince and Princess Wilhelm of Prussia.


Works in Paris and London, paints Florinda, which he exhibits same year at the Royal Academy; paints Queen Victoria, travels with Eduard Magnus to Madrid, where he paints Isabel II, Queen of Spain; betrothed to Marie Scheffel, but engagement later broken off. December: coup d’état in Paris, Napoléon III becomes Emperor of the French.


Works in Paris and London, travels to Baden, exhibits at the Salon in Paris and at the Royal Academy in London; receives first commissions from the Emperor and Empress of the French and paints their State Portraits; also paints the Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Augusta of Prussia and Countess Elzbieta Krasinska. 


Works mainly in Paris and London, created Peintre Attiré de la Cour de Napoléon III ; paints Empress Eugénie, Grand Duchess Sophie of Baden, Maharajah Duleep Singh, King Pedro V of Portugal and his brother, future King Luis of Portugal, and Countess Katazryna Potocka.


Works in Paris and London, invited to be on the 1855 Salon Wards Jury along with Ingres and Delacroix; paints Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, which is exhibited with several other works at the 1855 Exposition Universelle; also paints Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s half-sister, the Fürstin zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden.


Works mainly in Paris and London, but also travels to Baden, Austria, Poland and Switzerland; exhibits at the Royal Academy; paints Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, Queen Victoria, Fürst Karl Egon III zu Fürstenberg, Russian and Polish aristocrats.


Works mainly in Paris (2 rue de la Chaussée d’Antin / studio at 64 rue de la Rochefoucauld) and London, but also travels to Baden, Württemberg and Switzerland; exhibits at the Salon; raised to the rank of Officier de la Légion d’Honneur, paints Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, Emperor Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie of the French, future King Karl I and Queen Olga of Württemberg, Grand Duchess Luise of Baden, Crown Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, Grand Duchesses Maria Nikolaevna and Olga Feodorovna of Russia, Russian and Polish aristocrats.


Works in Paris, travels to Germanyand Switzerland; awarded Knight of the Order of St Anne, 3rd Class (Russian Empire); paints Langräfin Anne von Hessen, and Russian aristocrats, most notably Princess Tatiana Youssoupova, Princess Maria Worontzova, Princess Elizaveta Bariatinskaia, Sophia Naryshkina and Varvara Rimskaia-Korsakova.


Works mainly in Paris and London, travels to Germany; awarded Order of the Red Eagle (Kingdom of Prussia); exhibits at the Salon; paints state portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Grand Duke Konstantin and Grand Duchess Alexandra Iossifovna of Russia, and of noted Russian aristocrats, Princess Sophia Gagarina, Princess Maria Worontzova, Princess Elizaveta Troubetzkaia and Countess Maria Lamsdorff.


Works mainly in Paris; travels to Germany, Baden, and England; paints Princess Pauline von Metternich, Duchesse Carmen de Montmorency, Princess Elena Kotchubey, and Princess Maria Obolenskaia.


Works in Paris, exhibits at the Salon; paints Empress Eugénie, state portraits of King Wilhelm I and Queen Augusta of Prussia; travels to London to execute posthumous portraits of Prince Albert and the Duchess of Kent.


Works in Paris, travels to Baden and Berlin; visits Italy; exhibits at the 1862 London International Exhibition; paints Empress Eugénie, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna of Russia, Crown Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, Duchesse de Mouchy, Shouvalov, Abaza and Auffm’Ordt families.


Works in Paris, travels to Brussels, Baden and Stuttgart; visits Italy; exhibits at the Salon; paints Queen Sophie of the Netherlands, future Queen Marie-Henriette of the Belgians, Duchesse Sophie de Morny, the Duke of Hamilton, Lady Middleton, the Bariatinsky family, and the Wellesley sisters.


Works in Paris, London and Vienna, travels to Baden and Germany; exhibits at the Salon; paints Emperor Napoléon III, Empress Eugénie and the Prince Imperial, two portraits of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlotta of Mexico, Queen Ekaterina of Mingrelia and her children, Princess Sophia Radziwill, Varvara Rimskaia-Korsakova, and the wedding portraits of the Prince and Princess of Wales.


Works in Paris and Vienna, travels to Baden and south of France; paints state portraits of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, King Karl I and Queen Olga of Württemberg, Prince and Princess Belosselsky-Belozersky, Countess Maria Branicka; and travels to Rosenau near Coburgto paint QueenVictoria’s children.


Works in Paris; travels to Baden and south of France; paints Princess Antonia of Hohenzollern, Fürst Christian von Schleswig-Holstein, Duchess of Teck, and a subject picture, Susannah and the Elders.


Works in Paris, travels to Germany and Italy; completes posthumous portrait of Prince Albert, which is presented by Queen Victoria to the National Portrait Gallery; paints Mrs Philip Vanderbyl and exhibits the portrait at the Royal Academy in London; also paints the Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and by the Rhine, Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Prussia.


Works briefly in Paris, travels to Munich and Italy; completes a self-portrait on the request from the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, for their famous collection of artists’ self-portraits; paints his last portrait of QueenVictoria, a double portrait of sisters Alexandra, Princess of Wales, and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia, of Mme Mélanie Goldschmidt, and Adelina Patti.


Works briefly in Paris, takes an extended holiday to the south of France and Switzerland; paints identical portraits of sisters Queen Olga of Württemberg and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia; other portraits include Mme Leon Casso, Frédéric Kuhlmann, and Contessa di Castelvecchio.


Spends winter in Italy; at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Winterhalter leaves for Switzerland.


Lives and works in Baden; paints members of the Russian Imperial Family at Bad Petersthal; moves to Karlsruhe and settles with his brother at no 4 Friedricksplatz.


Lives and works in Karlsruhe; travels to Frankfurt where he paints a modest number of portraits of Auffm’Ordt, von Metzler and von Grunelius families;  and travels to Baden-Baden on Queen Victoria’s request to paint her  half-sister, Fürstin zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg – the artist’s last commission for the Queen.

F.X. Winterhalter's tombstone, by O. Sommer 1873

Lives in Karlsruhe; travels on invitation of von Metzler family in June to Frankfurt, where he caught typhoid fever during an epidemic, and died on 8th July at Diakonissen Krankenhaus; buried at the Frankfurt Cemetery. Posthumously awarded another Order of Franz Joseph, and his first retrospective exhibition was held in October same year at the Kunsthalle in Baden.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to the online Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter Catalogue and these blog entries? Have you heard more news about the works by these artists at auctions and exhibitions? Then do not delay and get in touch!

Some notes on the Winterhalter Family:

Some notes on the Winterhalter Family:



Fidelis (Fidel) Winterhalter (Menzenschwand-Hinterdorf 15.11.1773-Menzenschwand-Vorderdorf 6.5.1863 [natural son of Anna Schlageter (Menzenschwand 7.08.1745-Menzenschwand 2.05.1818), who m.1st  Matthias Winterhalter (Wittnau bei Freiburg 1717-); m.2nd 1786 Jacob Benedict Laule (or Leule / Lewle, Menzenschwand 11.07.1748- Menzenschwand 27.08.1829)] m. Menzenschwand 3.05.1790  Eva Mayer (Menzenschwand 12.12.1764-28.12.1838 [daughter of Josef Mayer, d. Solothurn 6.5.1772]), having had the following issue:


1. Balbina Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 11.02.1791-Menzenschwand 21.05.1803)

2. Justina Winterhalter (Menzenschwand  13.01.1793- Menzenschwand  1.07.1867), m. 1823 Hieronimus Maier (1794-1838)

2.1. Daughter, died young

2.2. Wilhelmina Maier, m. Heinrich Mayer (-1877)

2.3. Fredericka Maier, m.1854 Johann Baptist Schlageter (-1879)

3. Hermann Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 18.09.1796- Menzenschwand4.11.1798)

4. Theresia Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 20.04.1799-1.03.1865), m. Katejan Wild (-1850)

4.1. Babina Wild, m. Peter Maier

4.2. Justina Wild, m. 1866 Augustin Maier

4.3. Franz Xaver Justin Wild

4.4. Pankranz Franz de Paula Wild

5. Maria Anna Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 14.04.1801- Menzenschwand 22.06.1801)

6. Franz Xaver Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 2.11.1802- Menzenschwand 28.04.1804)

7. Franz Xaver Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 20.04.1805 – Frankfurt am Main 8.07.1873)

8. Fidel Hermann Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 23.09.1808-Karlsruhe 24.02.1891)

9. Makar Winterhalter (Menzenschwand 26.01.1813-Menzenschwand 21.02.1815)


© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to the online Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter Catalogue and these blog entries? Have you heard more news about the works by these artists at auctions and exhibitions? Then do not delay and get in touch!

Book Review: Gabriel Badea-Päun, The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of Elegance

Badea-Paun Society Portrait 2007Sunday, 8 July 2012

Book Review: Gabriel Badea-Päun, The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of Elegance (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).

Gabriel Badea-Päun’s The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of Elegance (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007) is an elegant publication, beautifully presented, and lavishly illustrated. It traces the history and development of society portraiture over the two-hundred year period, from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth century. As such, it is a major and commendable feat. For most of the volume, the author does not deviate much from the major portrait painters active during the nineteenth-century, and talks of Jacques-Louis David, François Gérard, Francisco Goya, Thomas Lawrence, J.A.D. Ingres, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gustav Klimt, John Singer Sargent, J.A.M. Whistler, Philip de Laszlo, Giovanni Boldini, etc.

However, he also includes relatively lesser known names, such Claude-Marie Dubufe and his son, Edouard Dubufe, Hippolyte Frlandrin, Alfred de Dreux, Théodore Chassériau, Léon Bonnat, William Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel, Jean-Jacques Henner, Carolus-Duran, Alfred Stevens, James Tissot, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Paul-César Helleu, Antonio de La Gandara, and others.

The treat for a portraiture enthusiast like myself is contained in the last quarter of the volume, where Badea-Päun focuses on society portraiture of the twentieth century, a very under-researched and underappreciated area of scholarship. He includes discussions on Paul-Albert Besnard, Jacques-Emile Blanche, Jean-Gabriel Domergue, Edouard Vuillard, Kees van Dongen, Tamara de Lempicka, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Salvador Dali, Pietro Annigoni, and Andy Warhol, and mentions important society photographers, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, and David Seidner.

Though the volume is rather on the Francophile side (and apart from Valentin Serov, no Eastern-European artist made it into the book), it shows the breadth of the author’s knowledge, awareness of the current and emergent studies on these artists, and an ambitious intention to survey society portraiture across political and geographical frontiers.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter features prominently in the book. His splendid portrait of Maharajah Duleep Singh of 1854 is illustrated on the back jacket cover; seven portraits are illustrated inside, including two lavish double-page spreads of The Royal Family (1846) and Empress Eugénie with her Ladies-in-Waiting (1855). At the very beginning of his volume, Badea-Päun virtually credits Winterhalter’s retrospective exhibition of 1987-1988 with the resurgence of interest in nineteenth-century society portraiture (33). However, I found the actual essay on Winterhalter riddled with numerous inaccuracies. For example, he claims that “in 1828 Franz Xaver suddenly received a commission to paint the portrait of the Grand Duke of Baden” (86). This is clearly erroneous, as Winterhalter enjoyed the patronage of the Grand Duke of Baden from 1824. The identity and the date of the portrait is also clearly confused, as Winterhalter did not paint a portrait of Grand Duke Ludwig I in 1828, but rather that of his successor, Leopold I, and not until 1831. It was neither “sudden” nor “stroke of fortune”, as Badea-Päun claims, but a steady progression of the Grand Ducal patronage.

The statement that Winterhalter was introduced to Louis-Philippe, King of the French, by Louise-Marie, Queen of the Belgians, is also debatable (88), as it is the King’s sister, Mme Adélaïde, who is credited with instigating Winterhalter’s first portrait commissions from the French Royal Family. The suggestion that Winterhalter’s invitation to Compiègne by the Emperor and Empress of the French in 1853 was “prompted by his recent portraits of the imperial couple,” is also erroneous as the completion of the portraits in late December clearly post-dates Winterhalter’s sojourn in Compiègne in October. Winterhalter was awarded the Gold Medal at the 1855 Exposition Universelle not for his Imperial portraits, as stated in the article (93), but rather for his contribution to the pavilion of (and as a representative of) Baden. Winterhalter did not travel to St Petersburg in 1857 to paint Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia (96). Rather, the portrait was painted a year earlier, in 1856, and much closer to home, in the German spa town of Wildbad. Further inaccuracies are to be found in his captions to illustrations of Winterhalter’s works.

It truly makes me wonder how accurate is the information contained in the rest of the book, and whether scholars and experts on other artists discussed in the book have also come up with a list of similar inconsistencies in the respective areas of their expertise. This mars an otherwise beautiful volume and a valuable overarching source on the last two hundred years of society portraiture.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to the online Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter Catalogue and these blog entries? Have you heard more news about the works by these artists at auctions and exhibitions? Then do not delay and get in touch!

Book Review: The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoléon III

The Second Empire 1852-1870 Art in France under Napoléon IIISaturday, 7 July 2012

Book Review: The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoléon III

It was a pleasure to revisit the erudite catalogue of The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoléon III (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art; Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts; Paris: Grand Palais, 1978-1979), which I had studied earlier during the nascent stages of my Winterhalter research. It was a ground-breaking exhibition inasmuch as anything that focused on aspects of nineteenth-century art other than David, Ingres, Delacroix, and Impressionism prior to the 1990s was ground-breaking. This volume remains an invaluable source of for any researcher working in the field of Second Empire or nineteenth-century art in general, or indeed Franz Xaver Winterhalter in particular.

For example, excellent overarching essays by Jean-Marie Moulin (‘Art and Society’, 11-16); Kathryn B. Hiesinger and Joseph Rishel (‘Art and Its Critics’, 29-34); Geneviève Lacambre and Donald Rosenthal (‘Painting’, 243-7), provide invaluable contextualisation for the study and appreciation of Winterhalter’s works in particular and portraiture in general during the era.

The inclusion of interior studies by Jean-Baptiste-Fortuné de Fournier and Jean Sorieul provide valuable provenance information about Winterhalter’s portraits. A study of jewellery by Gabriel Lemonnier give a valuable historical information on the Imperial Crowns of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie which can be seen in the portraits by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of 1853 (oil on canvas, destroyed); or the official jewelled insignia of the Imperial ladies-in-waiting, also by Lemonnier, for one can find between the lines an explanation as to why it is not worn by the Empress’s ladies in Winterhalter’s monumental group portrait of 1855 (oil on canvas, Compiègne).

The inclusion in the exhibition of portraits of Napoleon III by Alexandre Cabanel (1865, oil on canvas, Walters Art Gallery) and Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin (c.1860, oil on canvas, Versailles) furnish a valuable comparison of the Emperor’s depiction by Winterhalter; while the examination of Thomas Couture’s unfinished The Baptism of the Prince Imperial (1856-62, oil on canvas, Compiègne) allows for a deeper understanding of the circumstances under which Winterhalter’s portrait of the Empress with the Prince Imperial of 1857 was created (oil on canvas, Private Collection). Another curious inclusion is Paul Baudry’s Portrait of the Son of the Comtesse Swiekowska as the Young Saint John (1860, oil on canvas, Private Collection), inasmuch as, according to my research, the same sitter commissioned portraits of herself and her son from Winterhalter during the 1860s. (Incidentally, Baudry’s portrait was recently sold by Christie’s Paris for €115,000).

494 1854 Eugenie Winterhalter The exhibition included two paintings by Winterhalter, the 1854 portrait of the Empress Eugénie in eighteenth-century dress (oil on canvas, Metropolitan) and the above-mentioned group portrait of the Empress with her ladies-in-waiting. A short biographical article was furnished by Odile Sebastiani, though her three-hundred word entry is rife with inaccuracies. Granted, the exhibition catalogue predates the ground-breaking research on the artist by Dr Armin Panter, Hubert Mayer and the Winterhalter exhibition team, so factual mistakes within such a relatively early publication are almost forgivable.

For example, Sebastiani states “his early life remains a mystery”, “the biographers are not in agreement on the date of his birth”, or that “the chronology of his youth is uncertain” (357). All these inconsistencies were to be righted more than a decade later, in an utmost detail, by Panter and Mayer. Her statement that “portraits of the ducal family of Baden are generally ascribed to the period after his return from Italy” is clearly erroneous and not as readily forgivable, as even the most cursory research would have shown that Winterhalter began his work for the Badenese Grand Ducal family as early as 1828. She further writes that, after leaving France at the time of the 1848 revolution, he did not return until 1853, which is once again highly erroneous, as there is definite evidence that he resumed his portraits practice in Paris late in 1849.

The idea that he was “immediately commissioned to paint the portraits of the Emperor and the Empress” is also erroneous, as there were at least half-a-dozen other artists who were commissioned to paint Napoleon III and Eugénie prior to Winterhalter. But, I fully agree with Sebastiani’s final statement that “today, Winterhalter’s works have acquired the charm of all that conjures up a past period; one cannot deny the extraordinary virtuosity of this artist.”

Odile Sebastiani’s catalogue entry on the 1855 portrait of the Empress with her ladies is quite accurate, and her overarching observation is most apt:  “This work has had a surprising destiny that of being loved at the same time by crowned heads and the masses but rejected by the critics of art” (359). On the other hand, the catalogue entry on the 1854 portrait of the Empress Eugénie in eighteenth-century dress, contributed by Joseph Rishel, suffers from a number of factual mistakes, which I would likewise attribute to the early period of Winterhalter scholarship. Rishel’s statement that “the early history of this charming painting is not known” is erroneous, as the provenance of the portrait is clearly documented; and contrary to his assertion, the portrait was painted prior to the Empress’s appearance in an eighteenth-century dress at a court ball.

Last but not least, the exhibition catalogue has to be commended for the inclusion of the most detailed provenance and bibliographic information with every catalogue entry that would furnish any burgeoning or seasoned researcher with a wealth of primary and early twentieth-century publications on art and its patronage during the Second Empire.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to the online Franz Xaver and Hermann Winterhalter Catalogue and these blog entries? Have you heard more news about the works by these artists at auctions and exhibitions? Then do not delay and get in touch!

Book Review: Desmond Seward, Eugénie: The Empress and her Empire (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 2004).

Seward Eugenie BookThursday, 5 July 2012

Book Review: Desmond Seward, Eugénie: The Empress and her Empire (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 2004).

One of the quirks of writing a doctoral thesis is the requirement to show your knowledge and awareness of recent publications within your area of study. This stipulation can be rather ironic, especially when older, primary sources are by far more detailed, knowledgeable and accurate compared to the subsequently produced works. This is also applicable to a number of biographies I read in conjunction with my thesis. For example, I am currently working on a chapter that examines a selection of portraits by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of Eugénie, Empress of the French, which has certainly necessitated a detailed study of the Empress’s biographies. Most of the illuminating accounts that provide invaluable insights to the understanding of the Empress’s portraits by Winterhalter come from Eugénie’s contemporaries. More recent accounts tend to rehash the stories from the primary sources, and, in my opinion, apart from an excellent account by Patrick Turnbull, a more insightful and analytical examination of Eugénie’s biography is yet to be found.

However, in order to avoid annoying remarks from the future examiners about the exclusion of more recent publications, I recently turned to the Empress’s biography by Desmond Seward. Published in 2004, it is perhaps among the most recent – and creditable – accounts of Eugénie’s life. The biographical account is rather broad and cursory, lasting for no more than 300 pages. The writer confesses in the prologue to the paucity of any new information on the Empress, and even states that as far as the Empress’s biography is concerned, “nothing significant remains to be found.” Although most of the materials utilised within his pages have been published and quoted elsewhere, I commend the author for organising the wealth of information on the Empress in thematic sub-chapters. It allows for a closer and deeper examination of multifarious aspects of Eugénie’s life, such as her interest in politics; passion for fashion; intense religiosity; interest in Marie-Antoinette, etc.

On the other hand, and it is perhaps the fault of the editorial board rather than the writer, the endnotes are presented at the back of the book in a rather jumbled way rather than in a proper, scholarly manner. As the result, many of the statements and quotes remain unreferenced and unsubstantiated, including a supposed response by Napoleon III to Winterhalter’s monumental portrait of the Empress with the ladies of her court of 1855: “Not a man in it.”

Speaking of whom, Winterhalter features prominently in the book – the striking portrait of 1864 adorns the jacket cover; black and white illustrations include the copy after the 1853 official portrait, the group portrait of 1855, and Napoleon III’s portrait of 1857. The artist is mentioned throughout the book, without major inaccuracies. I would only take umbrage to a passage on page 53, where in a broad statement Seward declares that ‘contemporaries say he never did justice to her beauty’. Such statement is clearly erroneous, for it counters testimonials by Auguste Filon and Amelie Carette among others (who are referenced elsewhere in the book and listed in the bibliography). He supports this statement by a quote from Lillie Moulton; but surely, to remain objective and relevant, one ought to consider a cross-section of opinions rather than a single point of view.

© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012