Among the great portrait painters of Royalty and the Aristocracy were Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858) and his illustrious portege Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805 - 1873).
Some of Stieler's most famous portraits are housed in the Gallery of Beauties, the Schonheitengalerie, in Schloss Nymphenburg near Munich.
Winterhalter stood metaphorically on the artistic shoulders of Stieler and painted hundreds of portraits of the nobility.
|Barbara (Barbe) Dmitrievna Mergasova Rimsky-Korsakova|
Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1864)
It was Winterhalter's particular skill in capturing the pulchritudinous aspects of many aristocratic women of his time (even if they were not naturally beautiful) that has made his name almost synonymous with the genre.
His detractors called his art, "unnatural beauty." His admirers, on the other hand, i.e. the many aristocrats who paid him handsomely, as it were, for his portraits of them, of course thought this work to all about "natural beauty."
In the case of the Countess Barbara (Barbe) Rimsky-Korsakova (1836 - 1875), whom we see here in one of her favorite gauzy, diaphanous dresses, Winterhalter didn't have to dissemble at all. She was a true natural beauty, of noble Polish blood, a fiery, confident and independent woman who caused episodic scandals as a scantily clad "belle of the ball." In 1850, at the age of 16, she married the 20 year old Nikolai Sergeevich Rimsky-Korsakov (a distant and much older relative of the composer).
They were memorialized in Tolstoy's novel, Anna Karenina, as General Yegorushka Korsunsky and Madame Lidi Korsunsky. The Korsunskys were known by all who mattered, and were likened by the author to "white wolves."