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Carl Spitzweg: The Biedermeier Romanticist of Fanciful Humor


Humorously portraying small-town misfits, street musicians, postmen, night watchmen, and lovers bidding farewell with firm control of light, shadow, composition and detail, the German romanticist painter, Carl Spitzweg, is acclaimed as one of the most important representatives of the Biedermeier era in 19th century Germany.

Famous for his contradictory compositions, Spitzweg was born on February 5, 1808, in Unterpfaffenhofen, Kingdom of Bavaria. The middle son of a wealthy merchant, he completed his studied at the University of Munich and became a pharmacist. While recovering from an illness, he developed an interest in painting. Self-taught as an artist, he learned by copying the works of Flemish masters. His early works were contributions to satiric magazines.

In 1833, when an inheritance made him financially independent, Spitzweg was able to dedicate all of his time to his art. He studied John Burnet’s Treatise on Painting. He continued his self-study by visiting the great European art centers including Belgium, London, Paris, Prague, and Venice. In 1851, he toured Europe with Eduard Schleich and other artists and visited the World Exhibition.

Spitzweg is known to have copied the works of the Baroque Dutch Golden Age painters Nicolaes Berchem, Gonzales Coques, one or both of the Ostade brothers and Cornelis van Poelenburgh. Living a fairly monastic life in Rothenburg, his painting began to capture a bit of our humanity as it pokes fun at life in general. His work was highly sought after by Adolf Hitler.

Spitzweg was not so admired for his technique or school of painting as much as he was for his subject matter. He often included satire within each work. Instead of creating just a portrait or a landscape, he created a humorous look into the life of the middle class. One historical reference of the artist referred to him as a “genius who united in himself three qualities which seem to be contradictory- realism, fancy, and humor”. Many in the art world like to view his paintings to wander through an old German town of the 1840s.

At the age of 77, Carl Spitzweg died on September 23, 1885, and was buried in the Alter Sudfriedhof in Munich.


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