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High Society at MFAH

High Society at MFAH

The Museum of Fine Arts exhibition “High Society” is a stunning display of Europe’s elite in the 19th century. The artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, is a German artist famous for his captivating paintings of 19th century aristocrat fashion.

Portrait of Mme. Rimsky-Korsakov, 1864 Canvas, 117 x 90 cm R.F. 235

Portrait of Mme. Rimsky-Korsakov, 1864 Canvas, 117 x 90 cm R.F. 235

Fashion plays a very important role in the exhibit. Each portrait, some even of men, show the intricate design of 19th century attire. Winterhalter’s talent and incredible attention to detail is evident in the way he paints the ruffles on each dress, the gleam in each item of jewelry, and the tidiness of each men’s uniform. Subjects are posed in ways that show off their outfits and highlight their extravagance. The forty-five portraits in the exhibit are even accompanied by a beautiful selection of dresses.

Winterhalter’s paintings also give the viewer a profound understanding of the “it-crowd” and definition of glamour for the time. In each portrait, Winterhalter depicts the subject in a breathtaking manner, while still managing to humanize them. Subjects are not caught in rigid poses but instead in their natural state. Upon entering the exhibit you can find a large portrait of the Russian Princess Leonilla, lounging outside her house and overlooking the ocean. Even in formal and elaborate garments, the life and humanity shines through the painting of Madame Rimsky-Korsakov who is holding her long hair in her hands, giving her look a hint of dishevelment.

Winterhalter immortalized his subjects by capturing their essence. When a princess in a 19th century painting is sitting with a slouch, a modern-day viewer is given a stronger understanding and appreciation of who she is. Because the subjects are painted in a timeless manner, their luxurious style appears timeless as well. After seeing this exhibit you will have a desire to wear pearls to bed and carry a fan everywhere you go.

The High Society exhibition is showing through August 14, 2016 at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

By Meher Qazilbash

Meher Qazilbash is a high school senior at the Awty International School. She lives in Houston with her parents, her sister, and her beloved cat Salem. Meher loves Houston and writing about all it has to offer, specifically its incredible art scene. She aspires to write for the rest of her life.

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