High Society: Four Centuries of Glamour

Exhibition Overview

Sargent, Dr. Pozzi at Home
John Singer Sargent, Dr. Pozzi at Home, 1881, oil on canvas

The Rijksmuseum presents High Society: Four centuries of Glamour by the great masters of the history of art, including Cranach, Veronese, Velázquez, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Sargent, Munch and Manet.

Over the centuries, many powerful monarchs, eccentric aristocrats and fabulously wealthy burghers have commissioned portraits of themselves, arrayed in all their finery, from the best painters in the world. Preferably standing, life-size and full-length. The young Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit are the only couple that Rembrandt ever painted life-size, standing and full-length (1634). This prestigious format was primarily reserved for monarchs and members of the aristocracy. It was not until some time later that it was used for high society in general.

In the exhibition, Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen are in very exclusive company. The others include mighty rulers, such as Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of the largest domain since the Roman Empire. There are also eccentric aristocrats like the Marchesa Luisa Casati, a femme fatale who was widely known for her extravagant parties. Or Jane Fleming, who, at that time, was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in England. Prominent burghers, such as the German politician Walther Rathenau (by Edvard Munch) and Dr Pozzi, a dandy, gynecologist and notorious womanizer (by John Singer Sargent), also feature among the guests of honor in High Society.

Most of the subjects are very elegantly or extravagantly dressed, so the exhibition presents a snapshot of four centuries of international fashion: from the slashed breeches and doublet of 1514 to the haute couture of the late nineteenth century.

While the glamorous portraits present high society at its very best, there are more than 80 prints and drawings depicting – in explicit detail – events that often took place behind closed doors, such as parties, drinking, gambling and surreptitious visits to brothels and boudoirs. These drawings and prints are from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection.

Rarely have so many paintings by world-famous artists been displayed at a Rijksmuseum exhibition. The paintings range from the early sixteenth century to the early twentieth century. The finest works include impressive portraits by Cranach the Elder, Veronese, Velázquez, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Sargent, Manet, Munch and, of course, Rembrandt van Rijn.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Hammer Museum)

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