Hermann Fidel Winterhalter was born on 23 September 1808 in the small village of Menzenschwand in the Schwartzwald, or Black Forest. Hermann, with his father's encouragement, followed in the artistic footsteps of his older brother, Franz-Xaver Winterhalter, painter to the courts of 19th Century European royalty. Apprenticed as a lithographer, Hermann began to develop his great understanding of form, line and color at a young age. Hermann then studied painting in Munich and Rome. He settled in Paris in 1840 where he assisted his brother and exhibited at the Paris Salon six times between 1838 and 1869. His portrait of the Vicomtesse de Bondy earned him the third place medal at the Salon of 1844.
Hermann Winterhalter was so close to his brother that not only his work but also his personality are hard to disassociate from his famous sibling's. The two collaborated closely on Franz-Xaver's royal portraits for King Louis-Philippe's Museum of French History at Versailles. A double portrait of the Winterhalter brothers painted that year by Franz Xaver (fig. 1), presumably to celebrate their reunion, is now in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. Their fraternal bond, so well illustrated in the double portrait, show no signs of professional rivalry or personal friction in the many years they worked together. Hermann was an immense support to Franz Xaver's successful international career, and took charge of the latter's studio in Paris while he was abroad.
In the 1850s Hermann devoted more time to his own painting, developing a small but lucrative portrait practice. Among his works are Young Girl from Ariccia and the portrait of his Parisian patron Nicolas-Louis Planat de la Faye, now in the Louvre.
In Trois demoiselles de la famille de Châteaubourg, Hermann's technical virtuosity rivals that of his brother. Famous for the subtle intimacy of his portraiture, he creates a tender familiarity between his sitters and the viewer. He is not only skilled at posing his sitters to create complex compositions, but he also displays his versatility in rendering textures such as fabrics, flesh, and flowers. The artist pays no less attention to these details than to the finely finished faces he so delicately painted. His portrait of the three little girls exudes elegance and refinement in the expertly rendered, life-like and pleasantly idealized subjects.
The charming portrait of the Trois demoiselles de la famille de Châteaubourg was passed down to the descendants of the sitters and remained within the family until the last quarter of the 20th Century.
(fig. 1) Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Self-portrait of Franz Xaver Winterhalter with his brother Hermann, 1840, (Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe). Franz Xaver is drawing in his sketch book, his brother Hermann is standing behind him.