Exhibition | High Society

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 16, 2018

Press release (1 December 2017) from the Rijksmuseum:

High Society: Four Centuries of Glamour
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 8 March — 3 June 2018

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington, ca. 1778–79 (San Marino, The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens).

The Dutch national museum, the Rijksmuseum, is presenting High Society with 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. The centrepiece are Rembrandt’s spectacular wedding portraits, Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, which will be shown for the first time following their restoration.

Never before has there been an exhibition dedicated to this most glamorous type of portrait: life-size, standing, and full length. Loans have come from museums and private collections from all over the world including Paris, London, Florence, Vienna, and Los Angeles. High Society also gives a glimpse into the informal life of the well-to-do. More than eighty prints and drawings from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection show what went on behind closed doors: parties, drinks, gambling, and amorous encounters.

International Masterpieces
The works vary 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).

Four Centuries of Fashion
Most of the people portrayed 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.

Whereas the life-size portraits show the well-to-do in their Sunday best, three rooms in the exhibition are devoted to activities that take place for the most part behind closed doors: parties, drinks, gambling, amorous encounters, and brothel visits. Based on the vices of Gluttony, Greed, and Lust, more than eighty prints and drawings from the collection of the Rijksmuseum have been assembled, many showing humorous and satirical scenes, often with a strong moralizing message in the inscriptions.

Photo: Rijksmuseum/David van Dam.

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The catalogue by Jonathan Bikker (Curator of Research at the Rijksmuseum) will be available at the Rijksmuseum Shop from March 2018. An edition of the journal Kunstschrift entitled Ten Voeten Uit (Full Length) will also be published to accompany the exhibition.

Jonathan Bikker, High Society (Rotterdam: NAI Publishers, 2018), 136 pages, ISBN: 978-9462084261, 25€.

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