Carl Spitzweg (1808–1885) was always a very popular painter. We have probably all seen one of his humorously drawn character studies somewhere, one of his scurrilous "eccentrics", the bookworms, cranky scientists, bachelors, happy monks or self-sufficient attic inhabitants, who seem to enjoy their quiet "luck in the corner". Spitzweg, the painter-poet and chronicler of the "good old days" - this image considerably influences our perception and reception of his work up to the present. It is far less well known that Spitzweg was a passionate traveller all his life.
The representative exhibition in the Haus der Kunst records Carl Spitzweg’s travels and makes their effects on his paintings visible. The travel themes were produced during the entire creative life of the artist and are therefore not placed in direct chronological order. Rather, the exhibition is arranged according to thematic criteria – the numerous wanderings and journeys that led the painter not only into his native Upper Bavaria and into the neighboring Franconia, but also to Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, England and Belgium.
The visitor can trace the travels of Carl Spitzweg in eleven thematic pavilions with around 200 paintings and 80 drawings: the early journeys to Italy (1832/34) were followed by trips to Switzerland, which took the painter in 1838 and 1841 to places such as Zurich, Bern, Fribourg and Lausanne. In the hermit centres near Fribourg and Solothurn, Spitzweg found ideas for his pictures that were to accompany him throughout his creative life.
Expeditions through Upper Bavaria and Franconia followed. The artist explored no area more thoroughly than the Upper Bavarian landscape, which he portrayed in many differing variants. On small "canvases" made of wood and cardboard, he painted small-scale landscapes direct from nature. His roamings and journeys in the Franconian Jura and the Danube region were also of great importance for the painter. Spitzweg valued the "three Franconian lands" for their cultural diversity and beauty of landscape.
Visits to the Industrial and International Exhibitions in Paris and London in 1851 supplied Spitzweg with numerous motifs. Here, the artist discovered the Orient in its manifold colours and costumes. He was in possession of the "Description de l’Egypte", which had appeared between 1809 and 1828 and which probably gave him most inspiration. The life forms of the Orient, which were now becoming more understandable, became part of a context with the fine arts, which gave rise to many analogies and interpretations.
Spitzweg’s "travels into fantasy" – fairytale-like wanderings, dreamlike encounters and alienated ideas – are part of the artist’s early, travel and late phases. Although in style they are different, they determine all Spitzweg’s creations to the same extent and thus form a centre of the exhibition. It is not the heroes or spirits that float over the waters or in the open air in a balloon; rather, it is the tragedy of the real that appeals to the heightened consciousness of the viewer.
Spitzweg’s closeness to reality, deception and folly, the ideal and the clearly coarse, mark the beginning of a new period that occupies the painter. He practises a kind of "romantic realism", and his witch pictures are inspired by the great melancholic painters such as the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901).
The section "Peace in the Country" is dedicated partly to Carl Spitzweg’s soldier pictures, which were apparently produced under the influence of the warlike activities of 1866. They reflect Spitzweg’s decision to no longer make the military the object of his works uncritically. As a lively observer of the political processes in Europe, Spitzweg also dealt with the revolution in France, which had gradually advanced towards the east. The latent shift of power had led to the setting up of countless small, even tiny private militias, which "kept watch over towns and villages" and provided a painter like Spitzweg with an almost inexhaustible supply of motifs.
Except for a few exceptions, the "poetic nocturnal landscape" by moonlight is a theme from Carl Spitzweg’s later phase. The interplay of subject and environment is particularly pointed in the night picture. Here, Spitzweg alienates his figures: a bear is quite likely to appear in the nocturnal landscape, or even a dragon. The "nocturnal serenade", which Spitzweg dedicated to his sister-in-law Angelika (Nany), now also becomes important – a new discovery demonstrated in many details by the exhibition.
Throughout his life, however, his native town Munich remained the centre of Carl Spitzweg’s artistic creation. The various domiciles inhabited by the painter in nearly fifty years were places of encounter that defined the themes of his pictures. From his bay-windows, the artist looked down upon the vitality of the city.
The pictures that Spitzweg painted in his last dwelling in the centre of Munich make reference to his earlier works, but also to works of his friends. They thus provide many and varied starting points for judging the motifs with which Spitzweg tracked down the idyllic of his time, the much-praised "luck in the corner", to portray it in generally understandable forms. The wisdom that came with age gave Spitzweg a more mellowed view with which he followed the daily routine of the citizens from his "lookout" – and composed his best pictures.
The late phase also saw the creation of Carl Spitzweg’s "room pictures" – diverse variations of motifs of earlier journeys, drawn and painted from memory. The representations of the "Holy Land", which are also a part of his late work, can be seen as evidence of the Christianity of Carl Spitzweg.
Travelling and roaming in Europe is a very modern, exciting subject. Abundant in the various attitudes to the different countries, the journeys are brought out in detail in the exhibition. Spitzweg’s intensive travels open up new questions and show the painter with his subjects in a new light. The exhibition in the Haus der Kunst is thus a new approach to assessing the artist.
Specially for the exhibition, a copiously illustrated catalogue has appeared with a new, comprehensive list of works by Siegfried Wichmann and containing several hundred drawings in addition to around 300 unknown and newly listed works, as well as a card-game dealing with the pitfalls of collecting and exhibiting Spitzweg’s pictures.
Die Dachstube, um 1848/50
Oil on Linen
53.4 x 32.0 cm