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Stories

High Society, A special party with life-size portraits

Until the 3rd of June in the Rijksmuseum

Interview by Jolene De Boer



Marten and Oopjen

High Society, an exhibition exclusive to the Rijksmuseum, celebrates two extraordinary paintings by Rembrandt. In 2016, French Musée du Louvre and the Rijksmuseum were able to acquire the wedding portraits of Dutch Golden Age couple Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. It is the only couple that Rembrandt ever painted life-size, standing and full length. This special format was originally reserved for monarchs and high nobility. Later, wealthy middle-class people such as Marten and Oopjen were also able to afford this kind of exclusive portrait. With the High Society exhibition, the Rijksmuseum reveals the history of this type of portraiture for the first time.

Zaalopname High Society Rijksmuseum

Celebration

Both paintings of the Dutch couple were in need of restoration, which was completed only recently. To celebrate this memorable moment, the Rijksmuseum has invited some friends to the party. Over 35 life-size portraits of princes, noblemen, and otherwise famous people are present to celebrate with Marten and Oopjen. The works were all painted between the sixteenth and the twentieth century. They are portraits by great masters like Veronese, Velázquez, Gainsborough, Sargent, and Manet. Never before has there been an exhibition dedicated to this special type of portraiture painting. The works are on loan from museums and private collections from all over the world.

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High Society

The exhibition is called High Society for good reason. Marten and Oopjen are joined by well-to-dos members of society such as dukes, countesses, and members of aristocratic families from Germany, Italy, and Spain. Almost all of them are dressed according to the latest fashion of their times. The backgrounds against which they are portrayed vary from richly decorated interiors to lush settings in the outside landscape. The result is a much-varied set of works, embodying both a historic sense of fashion as well as the changing ways in which artists liked to portray their subjects. The exhibition shows that life-size portraits took various forms and served a variety of functions.


“Marten and Oopjen are joined by well-to-do members of European society such as dukes, countesses, and other members of aristocratic families. ”

Guilty Pleasures

During High Society, the visitor can take a sidestep and see another exhibition. Guilty Pleasures is on show in the adjacent galleries. If you look at the portraits in High Society as displaying the rich and famous at their best, you can think of the latter exhibition as a glimpse into the real world behind them. In over 80 prints and drawings, the Rijksmuseum gives us a peek into the life that was lived behind closed doors. The works tell a tale of secret parties, excessive drinking, gambling, and visits to brothels. The two exhibitions together are two sides of the same coin; each complements the other’s stories.