The School of Silks and Satins, The Merz Muse Trio

Adding light, froth and frills to the world is what we do best, especially after that he-shall-not-be-named year. So, to bring a little harmonious balance, we decided to unveil our newest Merz Muses for our eagerly anticipated collection launching soon. 

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Frederic Soulacroix and Vittorio Reggianni were prolific 19th century European painters that were favourites amongst the aristocracy of Paris and Florence, their stunning paintings beautifully rendered fabric and dress in such a sumptuous fashion that to this day their art is fit for the Instagrammable age. Pinterest pin worthy, their meticulous attention to detail and the way that they tantalised the folds and frills of dress, made them very sought after as portrait and genre painters, as they could easily turn a budding debutanté into the most sought after bachelorette of society, just through the colour of fabric and style of dress that she was wearing. 

So who were these painters? And why are we continuously so enchanted by them? 

Franz  Xaver Winterhalter 1805-1873

A German painter, Franz Xaver Winterhalter was one of the most fashionable court portraitures in Europe in the 19th century, with his most famous subjects and sitters being the Queens of Europe like Queen Victoria, Empress Eugenie and Empress Elisabeth of Austria. His portraits cemented these powerful young women into 19th century fashionable icons, portraying them in elegant genteel dress that captured the hearts and minds of their citizens. 

His two most recognised portraits are of Empress Eugenie and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and it is the way that he effortlessly captures their dress and style that makes them some of the dreamiest portrait paintings to exist in our humble opinion. Empress Eugenie Surrounded By Her Ladies in Waiting (1855) is his most famous creation. A formal and bucolic composition inspired by 17th and 18th-century paintings by Rubens and Titian, this joyful image is of young women relaxing, having a fabulous time and wearing their finest ballgowns in the middle of a forest. The various ruffles, crinoline, muslins, silks, tulles and ribbons capture the eyes of the viewer, and you just simply don’t know where to look next. 

The Empress Eugenie Surrounded By Her Ladies in Waiting, c.1855, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Source – Wikimedia Commons

The Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars (1865) is equally enchanting, with a soupcon of ethereal elegance. This iconic portrait of the doomed Empress (she was known to suffer from a debilitating eating disorder and was assassinated in 1898), portrays her blooming with youth and beauty. Known as Sisi by her nearest and dearest, the Empress was known to dedicate hours to her appearance and wasn’t afraid to try the latest beauty hack. This portrait clearly encapsulates her love for maintaining and controlling her appearance, with the froths of pale white muslin dotted with stars and diamonds a clear reference to dreamy celestial heavens and neo-classical goddesses of Diana and Artemis. 

The Elisabeth of Austria In Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars, c.1865, Source – Wikimedia Commons

Frederic Soulacroix (1858-1933) and Vittorio Reggainini (1858-1938). 

Born in the same year, both Frederic Soulacroix and Vittorio Reggainini were at the forefront of the Italian school of “Silks and Satins”, capturing the essence of luxurious clothing and furnishings. Satin and silks were incredibly expensive and laborious to create in real life, but they enchanted artists and young women, especially with the way that these materials could reflect light. It is important to know that during the late 19th century, artificial light was just at the rudimentary stages, with the first lightbulb invented in 1879. With this in mind, many of these gowns would have been worn under and against the glow of candles, which simply and sumptuously changed the way that the fabric looked. It’s this romantic fascination that clearly influenced these painters, and it emphasised just how it was paramount for many young women to be pictured in the latest dress. 

Frederic Soulacroix, Source – Mutual Art

These paintings pictured women in domestic yet clearly aristocratic settings. From having tea in parlours with friends, to languishing on chaise longues, in the middle of music lessons and, perhaps the most Male Gaze of all, peeking through curtains! 

Vittorio Regiannini, Source – Pinterest

We love the way that these beautiful fabrics are rendered and immortalised through these paintings, especially as fabric itself has a far shorter lifespan. It’s not only the fabrics, but the style of these dresses and the way in which these women are depicted that make them the Merz Muses for our latest and future collections.

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