Winterhalter: Portrait of an Artist

Franz Xaver Winterhalter's romantic representations of royal and noble personages, writes Joanna Richardson, have an unquestionable charm for those who live in a more pedestrian age.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter - François-Xavier, say his French admirers - was portrait-painter in chief to the royalty, the nobility and the elder statesmen of his age; but it is not easy to portray him.

There are, it seems, no biography, no catalogue raisonné of his works, no memoirs or correspondence to record his triumphant career. In the centenary year of his death, we are still obliged to piece his life together from scattered facts in numerous books.

Reference books do not even agree on the date of his birth. Some give it as April 20th, 1806, others as April 20th, 1805. All agree, however, that he was born at Menzenschwand, near St Blasien, in the Black Forest, and that in 1823 he began his training as an artist.

He went to Freiburg, took lessons in portrait-painting from the miniaturist Stieler, and attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Munich. During his student days he kept himself by working in Piloty’s lithographic institute. He earned a respectable living from lithographic reproduction.

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