Art, City, Culture, Holland

High Society, four centuries of glamour at Rijksmuseum

High Societe Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam gives us a little insight into historical luxury lifestyle. My favorite museum presents High Society, an expo with over thirty-five life-size portraits.  Powerful princes, eccentric aristocrats and fabulously wealthy citizens at their best. Painted by great masters like Veronese, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, Munch and Manet from the early sixteenth to the start of the twentieth century.
It is the first time that an exhibition is dedicated to the most glamorous type of portrait: life-size, standing and full length. Instagram-avant-la-lettre.

High Society Marten en Oopjen Rembrandt

Marten en Oopjen, high society wedding

The reason behind the High Society exposition is to celebrate the acquisition (together with Musée du Louvre, Paris) of Rembrandt’s spectacular wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit.
Following their just finished restoration, the wedding couple is now shown in all their glory. This painting from 1634 is also the only couple that Rembrandt ever painted life-size. The detailing of the white lace, first painted in white and with the cut-outs in black, is unbelievable. As are all the various shades of black – very fashionable French wedding style then – of her wedding dress.

High Society AMsterdam Rijksmuseum

Four centuries of fashion

Most of the people portrayed are very lavishly dressed, also giving the exhibition an overview of four centuries of fashion. From the tightly cut trousers of 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 (find him!) and one is almost completely naked.
Take a close look into the backgrounds. Richly decorated interiors, curtains, lots of dogs, even a large lion is used as prop.

High Society Rijksmuseum

Life and Style after fifty: Anna

Or in full: Anna, comtesse de Noailles. A Romanian-French writer and leading lady in the Parisian High Society – friends with Cocteau and Colette, to name two –  in the early 1900’s. This painting is made in 1931 by Dutch painter Kees van Dongen when she was 55, two years before her early death. She was the first women to become a commander in the Legion d’ Honneur.
This portrait was quite a shocker and offensive in those days because of the plunging neckline which almost reveals her nipple. Nipple gate! Also the way she in which she wears her medal ribbon as a choker around her neck was not done. Would have loved to interview this intriguing lady for our Portraits series

Guilty Pleasures High Society

Guilty Pleasures, behind the scenes

At the same time as the High Society exhibition, the Guilty Pleasures expo is in the adjacent room. Whereas the glamorous portraits are displaying high society at its best, these prints and drawings from the Rijksmuseum collection show a subtle glimpse of what was often going on behind closed doors. Parties, drinking, gambling and secret visits to brothels and boudoirs.

With walls painted in pink the paintings really stand out. Admire the life and style in detail of those who gave the word glamour a whole different meaning. Meet the High Society.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
from March 8 -  June 3 2018

ps. Not in Amsterdam before June 3rd? No problem at all. Take a virtual audio tour of the expo while listening to commentaries by General Director Taco Dibbits and editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Cecile Narinx about the often extravagant elements of fashion and the ins-and-outs of High Society down through the ages.

Download the app here.

High Society Rijksmuseum Amsterdam


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  • Reply Michael J Schaffer at

    How do I go about purchasing tickets to enter sometime between May 9-11, 2018? We would very much like to see High Society and the other show Guilty Pleasures. Thank you.

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