Art of the Vienna Galleries – The Nineteenth Century Paintings

GERMAN art of the 18th century began with a reflection of the French Academic art which reigned then supreme throughout Europe. In fact, classicism held longer sway in Germany than anywhere else. Although in the twenties Romanticism conquered the Academics in France, we must concede that the Nazarenes, so-called, at whose head stood Peter Cornelius, followed less the doctrine of colour than of line even as late as the forties.

The year 1848, with its political agitations in Europe, brought in Germany at least a revolution in art. A reactionary movement, both against classicism and romanticism, culminated in the supreme rule of a healthy realism; a realism which changed its subjects from saints and classic gods to scenes from national life. It was a’ Germanic nationalism — satisfied with its own history and its own daily life. For years this national art found worthy interpreters, led in Berlin by Menzel, in Vienna by Fürich and Waldmüller, in Munich by Piloty, Ramberg, Enhuber and the Frankforter von Schwind, in Dresden by Ludwig Richter. Dusseldorf, hopeless under Schadow’s guidance, revived under Ludwig Knaus, his follower Vautier, and Alfred Rethel. By the end of the century a new school had arisen — of which the last word has not yet been written — which, stirred by the Secession movement, has brought a revelation of beauty in art to those who have followed its creations. Lenbach, Feuerbach, Leibl, von Marées, Böcklin, Thoma, Klinger, and many more, although their work is still comparatively little known beyond the German border, will fill an important page in the world’s history of art.

We shall not be able to follow this well-defined stream of Germanic art development in the Vienna Museum. For this we should study the paintings of the National Gallery of Berlin.

The ” Modern Masters,” under which name are classified the paintings that are found in Galleries V-VII and Cabinets VII-X, refer to a collection of about four hundred paintings which represent principally artists who were more or less identified with Vienna. A very few foreigners, as Jacques Louis David, Constant Troyon, and Alexander Calame, and a few painters whose wider fame belongs to German art, are represented.

At the beginning of the 19th century academic classicism reigned also in Vienna, and its gradual suppression by the romantic and realistic movements may here be witnessed. GALLERY VII gives a view of this transition. The most notable of the academic painters was Heinrich Füger, who was called by his admirers the German Raphael. Each one of his examples (Nos. 1-6, for a new numbering covers the Modern Masters) bears the stamp of the technique which was then followed, although a reflection of earlier painters may not be denied. Thus ” Hector’s Farewell to Andromache ” (No. 2) possesses Correggiesque features, while his ” St. Magdalene ” (No. 4) is reminiscent of van der Werff’s Dresden Magdalene. Decidedly his best work is a recently added, and not yet catalogued, ” Portrait of his Wife,” which was painted con amore, but even in this we are reminded of Mme. Vigée Lebrun’s method.

Josef Abel painted a large symbolic picture, in which the poet Klopstock is led into Elysium and received by Homer and other great poets (No. 13). Johann Hoeckle, the Younger, pictures an historic scene in which the Emperor Franz I, with his generals, crosses the Vosges, in France, in the memorable year 1815 (No. 29). This canvas has merit of composing, and is less hampered by academic stiffness. Franz Eybl, a Viennese painter, is excellent in a self-portrait (No. 54), with fine chiaroscuro. His picture of an old woman, holding her rosary, as she comes from church (No. 55), is tenderly realistic and modern in feeling. Johann Peter Krafft is strongly academic, notably so in his ” Arindal and Daura” (No. 60a). In the ” Departure ” (No. 58) and the ” Return” (No. 59) of an Austrian militiaman he verges on the sentimental. Friedrich von Amerling was an excellent portrait painter, as several examples (Nos. 84-88a-d) bear witness. The portrait of the landscape artist Raffalt, as Falstaff, is a particularly fine performance.

Aside from the many genre paintings, which are of a comfortable mediocrity and generally devoid of deep interest, we must accord due credit to the landscapes, among which we note the ” Waterfall of Tivoli, near Rome ” (No. 30), by Jacob Philipp Hackert, a painter who was greatly admired by Goethe. This admiration was bestowed by Goethe, the naturalist; for as poet or art connoisseur he cannot have found much to admire in Hackert’s work, which lacks imagination and fails in technical excellences. Further we view ” The Deserted Mill ” (No. 70), by Franz Steinfeld, a picture of lonesomeness and desolation, and two landscapes (Nos. 91 and 92), by Ignaz Raffalt.

In CABINET X we find the example of David, “Napoleon crossing the St. Bernhard” (No. 9), an important canvas by this French painter. Four landscapes by Josef Rebell are worthy of notice here, notwithstanding their grandiose effect.

GALLERY VI contains the work of the Viennese painters who were influenced by the Nazarenes, prominent among whom was Josef Ritter von Fürich, with his sacred scenes from Palestine (Nos. 154-157). Fürich was possibly more attractive in his biblical presentations than any of the Nazarenes who worked in Rome. There is more childlike simplicity, a more naïve faith in his composition, that plainly speak of the pious, devout life of the artist.

George Ferdinand Waldmüller chose sentimental subjects of common life, to which romantic colour lends more or less vivacity. A ” Christmas Festival in a Farmhouse ” (No. 153), with its many bright children’s heads, is pleasing. Of greater interest is his self-portrait (No. 148), which is of more artistic quality. Josef Danhauser also displays that anecdotal trait which has always manifested itself throughout German art, and for which the Dusseldorf and Munich schools carry the opprobrium now visited upon them. In passing we must reflect that this reproach should not be made too severe when we consider that the telling of a story is a national characteristic, inbred and irradicable though it does often become a bore. Danhauser’s pictures display a keen sense of observation, often with a humourous touch.

Eduard Ritter von Steinle shows Italian training in his “Holy Family ” (No. 186a), which was unmistakably painted in the vein of Carlo Dolci; while Karl Marko in his ” Italian Landscape with Ruins ” (No. 192) and in ” Christ silencing the Storm ” (No. 193) has the same Southern traits. The large canvas by Eduard Ritter von Engerth, ” Capture of the Son of Manfred by the Soldiers of Charles of Anjou.” (No. 172), with its scenes of horror; the one by Karl Rahl, ” Reception of Manfred in Luceria, in 1254 ” (No. 194) ; and the ” Reichstag at Warschau in 1773 ” (No. 176), are large historical canvases of little artistic merit.

Still more works are found in CABINET IX, which are of greater interest for the study of history than of art. They consist of forty-four sketches for the fresco paintings in the Imperial Arsenal, representing the history of the Habsburgs. They are painted by Karl Ritter von Blaas. Only one small picture is worthy of special attention here. This is a picture by Moriz Ritter von Schwind, one of the greatest of the German artists of the middle of the century. It represents ” Emperor Max on the Martinswand ” (No. 364). On the right, at the extreme edge of a steep cliff kneels the Emperor, with hands folded as he receives the benediction from a priest who stands in the valley below and elevates the Host. A multitude witnesses the solemn ceremony. It is well painted, finely drawn, and the colour is of a fine fluency through the magic mist of atmosphere.

Schwind was the healthiest, most warm-hearted of the idealists, who sought a substantial substratum of real life in his poetic imagery. His influence was all for good; but speedily overcome and diluted by that strong current of anecdotal painting that swept from Dusseldorf over all Germany, Uhland, Mörike, Auerbach, the great romancers, became the idols and inspirers of the graphic arts. And only Munich, although carried away by the popular clamour, elevated the spirit of painting slightly by making its anecdotes historical.

In CABINET VIII we find Alexander Calame’s painting. It is a scene at the lake of Geneva, in the usual style of this Swiss artist. The ” Entry of Duke Leopold in Vienna after his Crusade of 1219 ” (No. 277) is a slickly painted, historical scene by Josef Ritter von Trenkwald. His “. Study-head of a Roman Lady ” (No. 277a) is painted with greater freedom. The ” Fight of Tritons ” (No. 280), by Benes Knüpfer, a Bohemian artist, is a fine performance. We find here further a full-length, life-sized figure, a lady dressed in white and yellow, playing a lute, in an evening landscape-setting (No. 286). This is a most characteristic example from the Munich artist Fritz August von Kaulbach, who succeeded Piloty as the Munich art director when only thirty-seven years of age.

Dr. Gurlitt, the old professor of art history in Dresden, makes a characteristic criticism of Kaulbach’s art, which describes its spirit to perfection. Says he, ” I should not like to have him paint a woman I respect. His female portraits look at one with too brilliant eyes, as if to say: Well, how do I please you ! They are all so savoury ; we would be tempted to pinch their cheeks. They have such round busts and sprightly limbs that one’s mouth waters. Kaulbach is an excellent tailor who knows how to lay around their slender and yet full bodies so many decorating folds that all charms are intensified. One does not see anything that would shock propriety, but one sees everything which decorum does not forbid. A bare arm is most charmingly naked.” Approval of this criticism is, of course, optional. It remains to be said, however, that Kaulbach has always been one of the most popular portrait painters in Germany.

CABINET VII contains a collection of pictures by North Italian, especially Lombard painters, of the first half of the 19th century which are scarcely interesting. The only important piece, which some-how is also hung in this Cabinet, is an early work of the Prague artist, Gabriel Max, entitled a ” Spring-tale ” (No. 357). A young girl, dressed in white and violet, is seated on a grassy slope, musing over the story she has been reading. A black cloak has fallen from her shoulders to the ground. The painting shows a promise of talent which later has been amply fulfilled.

Neither the many little heads of girls, for which Gabriel Max is best known, nor his famous ” Lion’s Bride,” give a correct impression of this artist’s calibre. He has painted many religious subjects, which are especially impregnated with a certain flavour of psychological searching, as if the artist is interested in, if not a devotee of the hypnotic cult. His Christs pose much like magnetic healers, and the eyes of his Madonnas have a far-off, somnambulistic look that would be readily diagnosed as a symptom of hysteria.

Far different are the Biblical scenes by Fritz von Uhde, by whom we see a small canvas, ” Christ the Comforter ” (No. 358), which hangs in the next Gallery. His intense realism is bathed in a mystic glow.

There is much more of interest to be seen in this GALLERY V. Prominent is the immense canvas, entitled ” Never Back ” (No. 290), a stir-ring scene from the first Austrian Polar Expedition of 1872-1874, and painted by Julius Ritter von Payer, the naval officer who commanded the expedition.

Franz von Defregger, one of the few German artists who is well known outside his own country, principally through the reproductions of his works, has two of his familiar Tyrolean scenes (Nos. 293 and 294).

Defregger, now the acknowledged leader of the Munich peasant-art, has himself been a Tyrolean farmer, and did not know city life until, at the age of twenty-six, he entered Piloty’s studio. Since he has devoted himself to depict the life of the hardy mountaineers among whom he himself has his home, he has become the most popular of German peasant-painters. This is quite plausible because the picturesque costumes of the Tyrol have not for city people the grotesque appearance of those of other districts. It reminds them of what they them-selves in sport and mountain travel find most convenient. Added to this is the tale of the chronicler which Defregger knows so well how to tell— so beloved by the Germans — while the pleasing colour scheme, not indeed as masterful as that of Ludwig Knaus, is nevertheless harmonious and attractive.

Jakob Emil Schindler, a Viennese, trained at the local Academy, shows great talent in two Dalmatian landscapes (Nos. 296 and 297). This artist was too modern for his time, and could scarcely subsist by his brushwork. He came too soon after Vienna had been surfeited with monumental art to have his pure, plein air landscapes appreciated.

Albert Zimmermann, a Dresden artist, who from 1860 to 1871 was professor at the Vienna Academy, is impressive in a ” Thunderstorm in the Mountains ” (No. 310) — it is honestly seen, and given with dramatic accent.

Entirely modern is the powerful portrait of Counsellor Rubenstein (No. 356), by Franz von Lenbach, the most popular of German portrait painters. Lenbach as a portrait painter varies greatly. His portraits of young women and children grew in his later years more and more alike — always the same almond eyes, the same half-dreamy expression, the same weak features. It was as if he presented always the same type of face. But in his male portraits, and even those of elderly women, he was different. There he grips one with a personal and individual conception. He does not alone draw out the best of character that is in his sitters, but he infuses the document he delivers with something of his own verve and vitality. It may be said that if in one class of his pictures he is as weak as van Dyck, in the other he is as strong as Frans Hals. No one who remembers his matchless portraits of Bismarck or of Moltke, or sees this one of Counsellor Rubinstein, but will respond to the fresh virility where-with he signed every brushstroke as with his own vivid personality.

The Constant Troyon hangs on the same wall, and is one of his attractive barn-yard scenes with poultry (No. 306),

On the sidewall hangs the immense canvas by Wenzel von Brozik, entitled ” Tu felix Austria nube ” (No. 341), the historical representation of the double betrothal of the two relatives of Emperor Maximilian I— of Maria of Austria with Ludwig of Hungary, and of the Archduke Ferdinand with Ludwig’s sister, Anna of Hungary. The ceremony took place in the old St. Stephan Church of Vienna on the 22nd of July, 1515. The style of Brozik’s large historical canvases is so well known that this formal presentation of historic art needs no description. Gorgeous court-costumes and a bewildering mass of important looking person-ages, painted in striking colours — and we have the pat description that would serve for every one of such creations.

The most famous and best beloved of all Viennese artists was Hans Makart, a man of magnificent decorative talent, and a powerful draughtsman, with a rich, colourful palette. But in all the prodigal pomp of his processions, in which female nudity always plays an often incongruous part, or in the mythological scenes in which the painting of morbidezza has a fitter setting, we cannot discover in this artist’s work the opulence of the talent of a Rubens, nor the grandeur of a Titian.

Makart’s ” Triumph of Ariadne” (No. 322) is an immense canvas filled with a tumbling mass of beautiful figures. A scene from ” Romeo and Juliet ” (No. 320) — the closing one of the IV act, in which Juliet lies on a couch, believed to be dead, and her parents burst forth in lamentation as Count Paris comes to conduct her to the wedding has an appropriate theatrical effect. A magnificent decorative “Bouquet of Flowers” (No. 321) is the third example we find here of Makart’s brush.

A peculiarity of the way this artist used to work is little known. Whereas painters, especially literary or anecdotal painters, generally have an object in view, and have an idea of the subject they wish to present or the story they want to tell, Makart rarely knew what he wanted to paint, but he allowed his fancy to run free and cover his canvas with figures and colours with a wonderful eye for harmony. As the old saying has it, it might turn out a song or a sermon — only we may be sure that his homilies were not oppressive. Often his friends would tell him, when the painting was well advanced, what the composition seemed to indicate, and the artist generally would carry out the suggestion by additional figures or some slight changes in what had already been accomplished. Makart’s artistic bent was by no means literary, despite the literary character of most of his work. He was rather an improvisator, but with remarkable skill in technical execution.

The upper story of the Imperial Museum contains in twelve Cabinets which run the entire length of the front of the building— a collection of drawings and watercolours, almost exclusively by Viennese artists of the 19th century. Since we may not expect greater enthusiasm by viewing these works than was occasioned by the contemplation of the oil-paintings of that period, below stairs, it must suffice merely to call attention to this display, which contains over six hundred numbers.

The rooms in the rear of this second story are utilised as copying galleries, and contain also a number of paintings of minor importance and generally of unknown attribution.