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