Franz Xaver Winterhalter was born into a peasant family in the Schwartzwald district of Germany in 1805. Together with his brother Hermann, the young Winterhalter was encouraged to draw by his teachers at the local Pfarr-schule. At nineteen, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the prestigious Munich Academy. In 1832, he traveled to Italy, making sketches and watercolors that he would in later paintings. After settling in France in 1834, he began to exhibit his paintings at the Salon, and in 1836 he won a second class medal for a picture of a Fishman and family, Naples. During this time, as a painter of Italian genre scenes, the art world would laud him as composing academic paintings with the style and grace of Raphael.
Despite his humble background, Winterhalter painted innumerable royal families in Europe over a career spanning more than forty years. He was the most successful court portraitist of his time. One must look back to Peter Paul Rubens, or forward to Philip de Laszls to find such extensive royal patronage. Winterhalter convincingly reinvented the tradition of court portraiture and gave it fresh life. He was a master of the female subject, creating from the exuberant fashions of the day, images of great elegance and sophistication. No other artist of his time could transform a subject with such deft and subtle touch.
However, while Queens and Kings, Princesses and Princes indulged Winterhalter's artistic tendancies to flatter his subjects with likeness and flattery, his reputation in artistic circles suffered. Critics who had praised his debut in the Salon of 1836, dismissed him as a painter that could not be taken seriously. This cloud hung over Winterhalter's career, relegating his work to a lower realm in the hierarchy of painting. Winterhalter himself regarded his first royal commissions as temporary repose before returning to subject painting and the field of academic respectability. He was a victim of his own success and for the rest of his life he would work almost exclusively as a portrait painter, enjoying the riches and celebrity of Royal patronage.
In contrast to Winterhalter's portraitures of nobility, Italienerin mit Kind is typical of the artist's work from 1834 to 1840, when he painted Italian subject matter in his Paris studio. The present painting depicts an unknown woman and child dressed in ordinary fashion, relaxed and unmitigated by the royal aire that Winterhalter was so accustomed to imbue. Common as the subject matter may be, Winterhalter treated the painting with no less attention or genius, elegance or delicacy. Many of Winterhalter's genre pictures were painted with the extraordinary attention to detail which made him famous, but the present painting clearly shows the influence of the French artistic tradition. While the faces of the mother and child are executed with painstaking exactitude, the background is handled with painterly flare, which lends a sense of immediacy to the entire composition.
It was with these modes of painting that Winterhalter forged his good reputation in France. The interesting juxtaposition of his two painting styles was in part what led to his success as a portrait painter, as his fresh approach to his subjects was very much appreciated by his clientele.
Dr. Armin Panter has confirmed the authenticity of this work.