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If Photoshop Had Been Invented in the 19th Century

In those times when ladies-in-waiting could not conceive of the idea of their own photo session, one thing that all self-respecting aristocrats longed for was a beautifully painted portrait of themselves. They were a good way to emphasize their best features and hide their deficiencies, but adding charm to a woman’s appearance wasn’t always within the power of every artist. One person who managed this, however, was Franz Xaver Winterhalter — a talented artist in whose work people still delight even today for its beauty and almost magical quality.

Adelina Patti, 1863.

Varvara Rimskaya-Korsakova, 1864.

The chances are that almost everyone has seen a reproduction or even an original portrait of an aristocrat from the 19th century at least once in their life — they are, of course, to be found in galleries all over Europe and plenty of other places. All these portraits have one thing in common: they show none of the deficiencies of their subjects. It was this artistic approach that made Winterhalter the most popular court painter of his age.

Princess Victoria, 1867.

After Winterhalter painted a portrait of Leopold, Grand Duke of Baden, in 1835, he was appointed as his court artist. With this painting, Winterhalter’s international career began. Royal and aristocratic families from England, Belgium, and Russia sought to have their portraits painted exclusively by him.

Empress Maria Alexandrovna, 1857.

Despite his huge popularity and the great demand for his talents, Winterhalter was never accepted into the elite group of portrait painters of that period. His colleagues considered his work too sentimental and too intent on embellishing the real appearance of his subjects.

Countess Varvara Musina-Pushkina, 1857.

Honing his skills year after year, Winterhalter was able to depict his subject in the most idealized way, smoothing out all their imperfections, whilst at the same time reproducing a portrait of uncanny resemblance to the original. He also didn’t leave out the ladies’ accessories. The luxuriousness of the velvet, satin, and precious stones that they adorned themselves with was also perfectly reproduced on canvas.

Countess Alexandra Branitskaya, 1854.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter will always be one of the great masters of portrait painting. Today, no one doubts the strength of his craftsmanship. His ability to accentuate all the right features of a subject to bring out their true beauty still delights.

Elisabeth, Queen of Austria and Hungary, 1864.

Carmen Aguado, Duchess de Montmorency, 1860.

Alexandra, Princess of Wales, 1864.

Countess Olga Shuvalova, 1858.