Monday, February 6, 2012

Dusseldorf Exhibition

Blog reader Christoph Heuer visited an exhibition of paintings from the Düsseldorf Academy that recently closed at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany. In an email he described the show to me, and it was so interesting that I asked if he'd be willing to share it with GurneyJourney readers. So here is Christoph's report:

"The exhibition covered the history of the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts from 1819 until 1919 and how it influenced the artists in many other parts of the world. It concentrated heavily on the times of Wilhelm von Schadow who led the academy from 1826 to his death in 1862.

"He built up a system of teaching, marketing and selling that was unprecedented in Germany and also shows the growing wealth of the citizens on the lower Rhine at the time. What impressed me most were the huge formats of many of the paintings, that seemed to be like a cinema before the invention of the rolling camera.  

(Above: Schirmer, Das Wetterhorn) "What surprised me at first was the fact how much influence the renaissance painters had on the early years of the academy (well, the so called Düsseldorf school of painting was heavily based in the Nazarene movement). The biggest painting in that section was a tryptich "Purgatory-Paradise-Hell" that was was painted by v. Schadow and his students.  Another one that was equally impressive was by Eduard Bendemann 'The Deportation of the Jews into the Babylonic Captivity.' 

"One highlight in that section was the Emanuel Leutze painting "Conquest of the Teocalli Temple by Cortez and his troops" from 1848 (above). This painting  also paved the way for a new way of dramatized historical paintings without a religious content that probably is best rendered in Leutze's painting of "Washington crossing the Delaware." Though it is regarded as a unique piece of art, it was shown that "crossing the river" was a very popular subject in paintings of the Düsseldorf that was ultimately exported" to Scandinavia by students who came from the North to study in Düsseldorf.

"Many paintings shown were also based on the "genre pictures" of the Dutch and Flemish artists of the "Golden Age". I knew some of the paintings from Hasenclever whereas those of Adolph Schroedter were very new to me. They can well be regarded as the forerunners of both Carl Spitzweg and the Comic Book Artists like Wilhelm Busch. And it was also made clear that one of the main achievements of the School was to alter the content of the role models into more modern ways. Especially the depiction of the father of a family as less patriarchal, more caring, and being vulnerable.

"Immensely popular were illustrations of Shakespeare tragedies. The painting "Eduard V and his younger brother Richard" had a tremendous effect on the students and produced many variations of the subject. Each was a narrative masterpiece.

"But there was also a movement of depicting the underdog in society that was the shadowy side of the ecological rise of the Germanic states (there was no "Germany" until 1871) and early industrialization. Death was around everywhere and many Artists painted it. I was very much impressed by a painting by Arthur Kampf, that was a bit illustrated like a huge stage, called "The Last Statement". That shows a dying man making a last statement to a policeman. 

"But also one rather small image by Otto Heichert "Mourners at a deathbed".

(Above: Johan Fredrik Eckersberg) 
"A large part of the exhibition was dedicated to the landscape painters and their development from Romanticism to Realism that was estalbished by Carl Friedrich Lessing, the Achenbach Brothers and Arnold Böcklin. Probably it was this part of the Painting School was most well known internationally. There were fantastic landscapes from Scandinavia and the United States on display. 

"And of course the romantic views of rural Germany that always bore a strong resemblance to the Grimm Fairy Tales but always had an eye for the non idyllic poverty among farmers. There were also paintings of the sea like Andreas Achenbach's "Sinking of the President" from 1842.
What was lost in the 2nd WW were most of the monumental paintings which were only remembered through oil and watercolor sketches. 

"But they opened the route for historical paintings in Düsseldorf. Lessing's paintings of the trial and execution of Jan Hus were very impressive pictures in both color and composition. But they also used a von Werner painting of "Luther before the Reichstag" to kick him while he was down. The catalog stretches the fact that v. Werner's painting is far more mediocre in style and composition... Oh, well...

"In general the good times of Düsseldorf were over with the Franco Prussian War. Berlin dictated the fashion: the glorification of Prussia! There was little  beside that. Only the landscape under their new professor Eugene Dücker managed some workaround that led to a sort of a Dutch Impressionism in the same line as the "School of Hague". But, as the guide commented, the really new stuff was happening in London, Paris and elsewhere.

"The Düsseldorf students went to spread the methods of working to other German Academies. Karslruhe, Leipzig and Stuttgart made many of them into professors.

"Düsseldorf regained some of its reputation by the late fifties. Beuys, Richter and others contributed a lot to the modern German art scene and in their time they were something the art scene might have needed. But the traditions of the 19th century were abandoned long ago. In the fifties there were teachers like Ewald Matare who still taught the classic virtues but opened their pupil's eyes towards a future. But all this has gone. The big star amongst the professors there is Peter Doig.

"There is some good news about the Dusseldorf exhibition. The catalogue of the exhibition is also available as an English version (Amazon link) and there are some images on a server (link).
I will try and translate some stuff that is not included in the English version. Such as the guidelines that von Schadow wrote on the teaching system for his academy."
Thanks to, Christoph Heuer for this report!


Erik Bongers said...

Saw "Das Wetterhorn" live in Brussels I think. Very impressive. The painting felt like a window to a most impressive landscape.

Ledeaux said...

I enjoy visiting your blog for so many reasons, one of which is being introduced to artists and artwork I've never seen before. My college art history class was long ago, but I am pretty sure Dusseldorf wasn't someone the instructor considered a big enough name to cover. Many thanks!

Aaron B Miller said...

I recently discovered Carl Spitzweg myself along with Eduard von Grützner at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. It seems like a new treasure trove of art is finally making its way to the public.

Kunst Kommt Von Können said...

For me it was the best show i ever visit. A lot of paintings i knew from books, but it was so great to watch these highlights from the duesseldorfer school live!

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.