Carl Spitzweg
Biography of German Genre Painter, Biedermeier Style.

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The Poor Poet (1837)
Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885)


Early Life
Biedermeier Genre Paintings
19th Century German Painting

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Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

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A German painter, designer, engraver and illustrator, Spitzweg was an important contributor to German Art of the 19th Century, and the most prominent representative of the Biedermeier style of domestic Romanticism. His reputation is based largely on his small-scale realist genre painting executed with a meticulous technique acquired from copying Old Masters of the Dutch Baroque School, as a student. His basic theme was the depiction of German middle class life, typically with a humorous eye, in the tradition of William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Honore Daumier (1808-79). But in addition to financial success, Spitzweg yearned for academic recognition, and he accepted Honorary Membership of the Munich Academy of Fine Art in 1868. In later life, like his Austrian contemporary, Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller (1793-1865), and his Berlin contemporary Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), Spitzweg's style of painting leaned noticeably towards Impressionism under the influence of Impressionist painters in Germany as well as France. His best known paintings include: The Poor Poet (1839, Neue Pinakothek, Munich), The Bookworm (1850, Museum Georg Schafer, Schweinfurt), The Farewell (1855, Schack-Galerie, Munich), and A Hyperchondriac (1865, Schack-Galerie, Munich).



Early Life

Born in Munich, the second of three sons of Simon Spitzweg, a wealthy merchant, Carl Spitzweg first qualified as a pharmacist at the University of Munich, before taking up painting during a period of convalescence. Entirely self-taught, he learned the basics of drawing and oil painting by studying and copying the great Flemish painters and the masters of the Dutch Realist School of Genre Painting. He put his knowledge into practice, from about 1830 onwards, by contributing a wealth of illustration and drawings, especially caricatures, to different magazines and periodicals. In 1833, he received his family inheritance, thus enabling him to dedicate himself to art full time.

Biedermeier Genre Paintings

He also produced small-format genre paintings, in which he captured the everyday life of his city - especially among the bourgeoisie - in streets and squares, with a wealth of anecdotal details that demonstrated his excellent powers of observation. In these figure paintings, he portrayed people with a sense of humour, sympathy, and keen psychological insight, in simple compositions with nuances of light, harking back to the works of the 17th century Dutch painters. Most of these compositions were executed in the Biedermeier style - which valued stability, comfort and domesticity above social or political issues, and preferred pleasant everyday scenes to dramatic inspirational imagery. He portrayed this Biedermeier-style world with inimitable charm, not with criticism, or satire, but as a smiling observer. He demonstrated great affection for odd, quaint, even scurrilous characters whom he discovered in remote corners of the city, earning himself the nickname of the "German Hogarth".


Later, Spitzweg began producing landscapes using plein air painting techniques, using pleasant colours and bold compositions, in which the influence of the French Barbizon School can be seen - notably that of Narcisse Diaz de la Pena (1807-76) - as well as Eugene Delacroix (1798-63), Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28) and John Constable (1776-1837), whose works he studied on trips to London and Paris in 1849. In fact, it was these trips that alerted him to the sophistication of the English Landscape Painting tradition, and subsequently he studied the plein air work of Barbizon painters like Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867), so that his later work became less narrative-based and more concerned with using paint to create a particular appearance or mood.

19th Century German Painting

Up until 1840/50, the main art movement in Germany was Romanticism, as encapsulated in the atmospheric outdoor scenery of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). [Note: Biedermeier art flourished in the period 1830-50, between Romanticism and Realism, taking something from each.] This was followed after 1840/50 or thereabouts by the Realism school, featuring painters like Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), as well as the portraitists Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) and Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900). About 1870, Realism itself was superceded by Impressionism, as practised by the likes of Max Liebermann (1847-1935), Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) and Max Slevogt (1868-1932).

Paintings by Carl Spitzweg can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world.

• For biographies of other Biedermeier artists in Germany, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of German 19th century painting, see: Homepage.

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