Exploring the High Society through the Art of the Masters

Exploring the High Society through the Art of the Masters November 2, 2018
Exploring the High Society through the Art of the Masters.

This past Spring, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam presented High Society: over thirty-five life-size portraits of powerful princes, eccentric aristocrats and fabulously wealthy citizens by the great masters of art history, including Cranach, Veronese, Velázquez, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Sargent, Munch and Manet. Never before had there been an exhibition dedicated to this most glamorous type of portrait: life-size, standing and full length. Loans came from museums and private collections from all over the world including Paris, London, Florence, Vienna and Los Angeles. The acclaimed exhibition was an absorbing and intriguing insight into how artists have portrayed members of affluent societies and gave a glimpse into the informal life of the well-to-do.

The works exhibited varied from the early sixteenth to the start of the twentieth century. Masterpieces include the impressive portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony, and Catharina, Countess of Mecklenburg by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1514), the married couple Iseppo da Porto and Livia da Porto Thiene with their children by Veronese (1555), Don Pedro de Barberana y Aparregui by Velázquez (ca. 1631-33), Portrait Jane Fleming by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1778/79), The Artist by Edouard Manet (1875) and of course Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt (1634).

Most of the people portrayed in these paintings are very lavishly dressed, giving the exhibition an overview of four centuries of fashion: from the tightly cut trousers and doublet from 1514 to the haute couture of the late nineteenth century. Some of the subjects portrayed, however, are wearing fancy garments in an antique style. Another is wearing a kilt, yet another is not wearing trousers and one is almost completely naked. Remarkably, those portrayed often have dogs with them. One man is accompanied by a lion. One couple have their children with them. The backgrounds can be richly decorated interiors, often with columns and/or curtains, or a summer or winter landscape. One man is standing in front of an imaginary landscape with palm trees, while another is adopting a flamboyant pose in front of the Colosseum in Rome.

High Society also celebrated the acquisition of Rembrandt’s spectacular wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum) and France (Musée du Louvre) in 2016 from a private collection. The wedding couple is the only couple that Rembrandt ever painted life-size, standing and full length (1634). The paintings were displayed in the exhibition for the first time since their restoration – completed at the beginning of 2018. The High Society exhibition was the overture to the Year of Rembrandt in 2019, during which the 350th anniversary of the death of the artist is being extensively celebrated at the museum. – GM

Los Angeles, The Hammer Museum, John Singer Sargent, Dr Samuel-Jean Pozzi.
Gemälde / Holz auf Leinwand übertragen (1514) von   Lucas Cranach d.Ä. [1472 - 1553]   Bildmaß 184,50 x 83,00 cm  Inventar-Nr.: 1906 H  Person: Katharina von Mecklenburg [1487 - 1561], Gemahlin Heinrichs des Frommen, Herzog von Sachsen  Systematik:   Personen / Fürsten / Deutschland / Sachsen / Herzöge / Heinrich der Fromme / Gattin
CH989203 Portrait of the Marchesa Luisa Casati, with a Greyhound, 1908 (oil on canvas) by Herold, Jacques (1910-87); 253.4x140.4 cm; Private Collection; ( Portrait of the Marchesa Luisa Casati, with a Greyhound. Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Oil on canvas. Painted in 1908. 253.4 x 140.4cm.); Photo © Christie's Images; French,  in copyright

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The works exhibited varied from the early sixteenth to the start of the twentieth century.

Images courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Museum

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