Depicting the images of King Louis Philippe, Queen Victoria, Napoleon lll and the most of the European aristocracy with an astonishing painterly finesse, the German painter and lithographer, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, is celebrated for shaping the entire era of aristocratic imagery.
Best-known for his portraits of royalty, Winterhalter was born on April 20, 1805, in the small village of Menzenschwand, Germany's black forest, in the Electorate of Baden. He left his home to study painting at the academy in Munich. Before becoming court painter to Louis-Philippe, the king of France, Winterhalter joined a circle of French artists in Rome.
In 1828, Winterhalter entered court circles, when he became drawing master to Sophie, later grand duchess of Baden, at Karlsruhe. In 1835, after he painted the German Grand Duke and Duchess of Baden, his international career as a court portrait painter was launched. After 1834 he went to Paris and quickly became fashionable, at first under the protection of King Louis-Philippe and later at the court of Napoleon lll.
In 1941, Winterhalter was first summoned to the English court by Queen Victoria. He was a favorite of Queen Victoria, who called him ‘excellent, delightful Winterhalter'. The Royal Collection has more than a hundred of his paintings.
Although Winterhalter never received high praise for his work in his native Germany, but the royal families of England, France, and Belgium all commissioned him to paint portraits. His monumental canvases established a substantial popular reputation, and lithograph copies of the portraits helped to spread his fame.
Winterhalter style was somewhat conservative at first, producing a smooth enamel-like surface; he later developed a freedom of brushwork that engendered the Romantic charm. His world famous portrait of ‘Sisi’ became iconic and has defined our image of the Austrian Empress to this date.
Winterhalter's portraits were prized for their subtle intimacy, but his popularity among patrons came from his ability to create the image his sitters wished or needed to project to their subjects. He could capture the moral and political climate of each court, adapting his style to each client until it seemed as if his paintings acted as the press releases, issued by the masters of public relations.
After the Franco-Prussian War, Winterhalter settled in Baden. In the last two years of his life he painted very little. During a visit to Frankfurt am Main in the summer of 1873 he contracted typhus and died on 8 July 1873. He was sixty-eight years old.