Monday, June 1, 2009

The Düsseldorf School

The Düsseldorf School of painting had a big influence on 19th century landscape painting from the 1830s through the 1860s.

The school was notable for its dramatically lit historical subjects, often featuring scenes like shipwrecks, noble peasants, or epic mountainscapes.

The artists associated with the school include Wilhelm von Schadow, Karl Friedrich Lessing, the brothers Andreas and Oswald Achenbach, and Hans Fredrik Gude. Johann Wilhelm Schirmer is shown above. Some of them had experience painting theatrical backdrops, and they took some of those sensibilities into their easel paintings. Some of those pictorial features include:

Realistic and detailed treatment of form.
Strongest accents and focal point in middle ground.
Dark framing masses at the sides of the compositions.
Stormy skies and dramatic lighting.
Road or trail leading into the picture.
Filmy or atmospheric distances.
Literary references in genre scenes.

Americans who studied there included George Caleb Bingham, Eastman Johnson, Worthington Whittredge, William Stanley Haseltine, James McDougal Hart, and William Morris Hunt, and Emanuel Leutze, who painted "Washington Crossing the Delaware" in Germany using American Dusseldorf students as models.

Although he wasn’t formally enrolled at the academy, Albert Bierstadt worked and studied among the community of artists, and became probably the best exponent of the style. The Russian painter Ivan Shishkin also spent time there soaking up the landscape vocabulary.

Above: Oswald Achenbach, "The Bay of Naples."

The goal of the Dusseldorf artists was to infuse the landscape with “stimmung” (mood). Their romantic sensibilities were tied to “Volkskarakter” or national character. According to Henk Van Os,
“The idea is that the soul of a people is expressed through its countryside, its landscape; painters make this soul visible. This was to become the cornerstone of realistic landscape in the second half of the nineteenth century.”

Quote from Russian Landscape, National Gallery exhibition, link.


Mary Bullock said...

Are there any modern day painters that adhere to those principles today - or at least employ some of their techniques?

James Gurney said...

Yes, me for one. Also, a lot of animation background and live action matte painters and movie vis dev artists use similar ideas to give their landscapes a dramatic, narrative dimension.

caynazzo said...

Consider the "painter of light" himself Thomas Kinkade.

discuss :)

i, me said...

Amazing that he created such an iconographic image without, presumably, having been there. (washing delware) how did he get GW's likeness? He didn't pose all the students at once... so how did get the light right (i am not asking for answers, its more to say, it just amazes me.)
I am realist painter who wants to do historical subjects - and it can intimidating and also, there is this idea now that you need to be real... if for example you were painting the saraha, if you don't practically put the sand in your paint its not 'authentic'. I do believe it helps, immensely to experience the thing...but sometimes we do that we sacrofice our imagination

James Gurney said...

I, me: Leutze was an artist who was born in Germany, grew up in USA, and returned to live and work in Germany. When he painted WCD, he insisted on using Americans as models. Worthington Whittredge's memoir describes how he posed for Washington in an accurate costume, and also how Bierstadt arrived as a very unpromising hopeful, and then how he did miraculous stuff by just working his tail off outdoors.

Moai said...

Beautiful paintings, especially the first one. I love dynamic rocky forms like that, but I find them very difficult to paint, so seeing one so well executed is especially inspiring for me.

On an entirely unrelated note, James, I saw your cover painting for "Citizen Phaid" in a sci-fi art book the other day, and I was blown away. With all your dinosaurs and baby birds and horses and whatnot, it's easy for me to forget how adept you are at painting futuristic, high-tech subjects.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Moai, that's really nice of you. The art director, Gene Mydlowski, deserves a lot of credit on that cover for letting me do a long horizontal composition, very atypical for covers in those days.

David Still said...

I saw the painting 'Cornel Rhos - Spring' by William Morris Hunt in the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition in Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. Many times. It was one of my absolute favourites in that show. Unfortunately I can't find a picture of it online..

Erik Bongers said...

Not that it's relevant, but "Washington Crossing" brings back memories of my visit to the Met and to a previous carrier where I visited J&J in Titusville NJ, at walking distance of the actual crossing location along the Delaware.
But as I said, not really relevant.

Honey P. Amplegood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesse Hamm said...

I recall Frank Frazetta remarking in an interview that he wasn't very influenced by N.C. Wyeth, with whom he's sometimes compared, but rather by old German painters. He didn't identify the German painters, but looking at these works and the qualities James mentions (their strongest accents and focal point in middle ground, dark framing masses at the sides of the compositions, stormy skies and dramatic lighting, filmy or atmospheric distances), I wonder whether this was the group he meant.

Hank said...

I'm always kind of happy, whenn I read about german artists here at Your blog. Thank's for that! :-) The "Düsseldorfer Malerschule" for me (as a student at the "Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie") was and is a great inspiration, allthough ther weren't really outstanding painters. Only well informed people know the names of Andreas and Oswald Achenbach, for example. On the one side, their compositions were really impressive and their knowledge of how to make pictures look "erhaben" (means: impressive in an grand with a sense of awe) was astonishing. But they weren't great painters, if one looks at their "brush-work". No "peinture", if You know, what I mean.
And they got with the "Münchener Malerschule" big competitors in the second half of the 19th century. Like Leibl or Böcklin, for example.

Nevertheless it's really worth the time to look at and examine the landscapes of the "Düsseldorfer Malerschule" protagonists. For example the two Achenwald brothers. The "nordic" Andreas Achenbach painted many norwayen landscapes with impressive clouds, storms, the expressive mountains and fjords ob the scandinavien countrys. His "southern" brother painted large italian landscapes, very warm, with red glowing imprimiturs. I prefer the nordish Achenbach, but that's just a matter of taste...

Perhaps You could write something about the "Münchner Malerschule" in the future? Some american "impressionists" like T.C. Steele, William Forsyth or Ottis Adams studied in Munich (together with famous german Painters like Lovis Corinth) and it's interesting to see, how their training/education in Germany influenced their work, when they returned to the USA.

Kunst Kommt Von Können said...

Hank, i always shake my head when i read something like your comment
"But they weren't great painters, if one looks at their "brush-work". No "peinture", if You know, what I mean."

Or, in other words, No brushwork visible == no great painter. Thats only a matter of taste, not more. And a bad taste in my opinion, because it's often connected with the hype of no-skill art.

In my book, someone like Carl Friedrich Lessing is one of the greatest figurative Landscape painter ever, BECAUSE OF his finished, detailled painting style.

r8r said...

Unknown said...

American landscape artist,Worthington Whittredge was studying also with Bierstadt informally at the Dusseldorf Academy and was living for a period with Achenbach in Dusseldorf.