Thursday, December 8, 2011

Heinrich von Zügel

Sometimes when I read the art magazines from a hundred years ago, I feel as if I have entered a parallel universe. None of the names that are supposed to be important according to today’s art historians are ever mentioned, and most of the names that I encounter are never discussed today.

For example, a 1909 edition of Studio Magazine declares that German artist Heinrich von Zügel (1850-1941) “stands among the greatest animal painters of our time.” A claim like that is worth investigating.

But try to find a book on Zügel on US Amazon today and you won’t get any results. There's no English language Wikipedia page on him, and scarcely even a mention of him in any current art history book.

Heinrich von Zügel was the son of a shepherd. According to Studio magazine, he first became known in the 1870s for his exactly drawn studies of sheep. These studies were made while directly observing living domesticated animals, not painted from dead animals, as was the practice of hunter-artists such as Carl Rungius.

Sheep don’t pose for their portraits. It takes immense patience and resourcefulness to do studies like this. They’re drawn directly with the brush and elaborated as the animals moved around. Note the brush lay-ins in the lower right. Only Rosa Bonheur, Edwin Landseer, Bruno Liljefors, Sir Alfred Munnings, and Rien Poortvliet could match von Zügel at such animal studies from life.

In the painting above, a draft horse is harnessed together with three oxen. Their breath is commingled in the cold back-lit air. Note the handling of edge lighting and the warm reflected light under the belly of the ox.

Von Zügel was a professor of the Munich Academy, and a leader of the Munich Secession. In his later career, he absorbed the lessons of impressionism and became more interested in weaving animals into their environments.

Von Zügel was obsessed by this one pictorial theme for 40 years of his life: painting large animals plowing or harrowing. His series, called “heavy work” (Schwere Arbeit) includes many variations of the theme. Here, the two horses are viewed contre-jour from a low eye level. You can almost feel their big heads swinging side to side and hear the harness chains jingling. Their illuminated breath and the ground mist dissolve the form of the horses and even the ground they're walking on.

Von Zügel's paintings address profound and universal issues of form, light, and motion, not to mention the bounty of the earth, the human bond with other creatures, and the cycle of life.

I think that's reason enough to give him a spot in the art books, or for now at least, the blogosphere.

LINKS to learn more.....
Wikipedia on Heinrich von Zügel in German
Studio Magazine review of his exhibition (free Google book from 1909)
Modern German and Austrian Masters (free Google book from 1916)
Bio of Zugel in English
Previously on GJ:
Rosa Bonheur ram studies


My Pen Name said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
My Pen Name said...

I heard Tom Wolfe speak at the 10 anniversary of the 'derrière guard' he predicted that most people would remember Picasso in 20 years (Hope!) he based this on the survey of the French public at the end of the 19th century, when asked who would be the most remembered french artists in 100 years - the answers were NOT Monet, Renoir, Degas or some other impressionist was bougeroua, germone and some other chap.

On the other hand, Rapheal was more highly esteemed than Michaelangelo and Leonardo until the early 19th century..

I find this with literature too. I discovering many great but now brushed aside poets, historians and writers

Gabriel Hunt said...

Wow, I'm surprised that Bruno Liljefors is known outside of Sweden!

MrCachet said...

You got my attention!

Shannon Beaumont said...

Hi James,

It's always a joy to see more master animal artists that are not usually mentioned in art history books. Heinrich is however mentioned in a book from Gottfried Bammes, "Grosse Tieranatomie". A beautiful book full of animal anatomy and animal artists... although it's only in German.

Thanks for sharing!


Dylan Sara said...

Thanks for bringing von Zügel to our attention. Beautiful paintings.

Sam Easton said...

Oh mortality! Even the dead are not immune to it. I wonder how many of us here are going to be remembered, even when we're long gone. Thank you for giving old Heinrich a chance to shine again.

Saskia said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen one of his paintings hanging in some random building in Munich.

Lindsay said...

Those paintings are great. In general I don't think it's easy to find information about German artists... I couldn't find any books about Hans Holbein the Younger with good reproductions for example. A lot of great American tonalists studied in Germany during the 19th century.

Mary Bullock said...

Fame is fickle and fleeting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post on two of my favorite subjects; plow horses and sheep. Von Zugel's paintings of beautiful, realistic sheep are for me to aspire to in my practice. I can feel and smell their wooly, greasy coats.


Brian said...

What a great list of artists who truly mastered their craft. I'd add Lucy Kemp Welch to that list of great ones painting animals from life.

margplum said...

The Frye Art Museum in Seattle ( has several of his works, and a number of others by artists that aren't household names but whose work is beautiful.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi James .. fascinating post - thank you so much for telling us about von Zugel .. I loved the synopsis here .. I appreciate his fine work - great to see .. cheers Hilary

Ulrike Miesen-Schürmann said...

It's quite usual that you can't get any books about German artists. It's the same the other way round. For that reason I have to buy all the good American ones. Probably, there should be more translations... O:-) Oh, a good idea... hmmm

James Gurney said...

Thanks to all of you for adding to the understanding of this artist. Some of you have emailed me to say you've found books on him, or you've translated German web resources.

And thanks for the tips on the other related artists.

Mr. Spaceartist said...

I found this blog post just yesterday. Very interessting read.