Portrait of Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein (Primary Title)

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, German, 1805 - 1873 (Artist)

ca. 1857-58
oil on canvas
Unframed: 56 3/8 × 43 × 7/8 in. (143.19 × 109.22 × 2.22 cm)
Framed: 85 1/2 × 66 3/4 × 8 3/8 in. (217.17 × 169.55 × 21.27 cm)

Winterhalter became much sought after in the courts of Europe, especially after his successful portraits of both the young Queen Victoria as well as the Empress Eugénie of France. He was particularly trusted by aristocratic women to produce gorgeous and highly flattering portraits, which would simultaneously celebrate and be a lasting record of their youth, status, good taste, and fashion sense (their gowns were usually designed by Worth, to Winterhalter’s own specifications). In this portrait of Baroness Staël-Holstein, the viewer is confronted with a stunning image of a woman of minor noble pedigree, painted at the height of her youth, with the artist paying much attention to the details of the sitter’s costume, jewelry, and hairstyle.


In Second-Empire France, fashion and identity were tightly intertwined. Here Winterhalter, who knew how best to serve the needs of his patron, skillfully draws the viewer’s attention to his subject’s mauve gown through his bold brushwork. To better highlight the sitter, the artist has deployed a drab and dull brown background, which sets us a rich contrast with the light and feminine material of the dress. The dress itself is composed of layer upon layer of explosively luxurious fabric, and it subtly mirrors the flower in the sitter’s hair, which is made up of layers of soft and colorful petals, and is the ultimate symbol of feminine beauty.

Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
Winterhalter, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, April 17 - August 14, 2016
Aurisch, Helga Kessler, et. al. High Society: The Portraits of Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Stuttgart: Arnoldsche Art Publishers; Houston: In association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Augustinermuseum, Städtische Museen Freiburg, Palais de Compiégne, 2015. pp. 186, plate 65, color ill.

Trippi, Peter. "The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Takes a Fresh Look at 19th-Century Europe." Fine Art Connoisseur, vol. 8 issue 5 (October, 2011): pp. 33-37. Color ill., pp. 36.

Clarke Bustard, "Art museum buys ancient, new works," Richmond Times-Dispatch Friday, January 21, 2005, color ill. p. D8.

"100 Top Treasures," Arts and Antiques, November 2005, p. 102, no. 97, color ill. p. 103.

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