Selected works of 19th century Austrian paintings: Agricola, Waldmüller und Amerling
by Dr. Gerbert Frodl, former director, Belvedere, Vienna
Lecture for the opening of the 127th auction on April 3rd, 2019
Carl Josef Alois Agricola (1779-1862) is a superb representative for the transition from Classicism to Biedermeier, or to put it differently – from depicting the imaginary into representing the visible world. Those developments occur fluidly, and Agricola’s large painting “Cupid with a bow and arrow” (lot 44) from 1827 is a charming and eloquent testament to that. Cupid is the always lovable, slightly cunning mythological hero, and the artist shows him as an exquisite blonde boy who seems so much alive that the client’s son might have been the force behind it. “Armed” with his attributes of bow and arrow, we watch him appear in all his splendid youth in between a multitude of flowers. Those seem not so much real, but are more likely to represent the strong interest in botanic at the time.
Another painting with the same subject, “cupid and psyche”, is part of the permanent collection of the Belvedere Museum. However, Agricola is mostly known for his portrait miniatures and his small, intimate landscapes, some real and some imaginary. This cupid is therefore a rare and truly exceptional feature in the artist’s oeuvre.
Friedrich von Amerling (1803-1887) is reputed as the most important portraitist of the Biedermeier. Through copying the old masters, he acquired their technique, an absolute necessity in the 19th century, and highly valued by the public. His reputation leads him to an imperial commission, and he paints the emperor Franz I. (II) of Austria in his regalia (owned by the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien). One of his most momentous portraits, he masterfully depicts the emperor’s tribulations in his model’s face.
A sojourn in Rome, the art capital in the first half of the century, enriches his portfolio of portraits and beautiful ladies. His painting “Regine in greek costume” (lot 248) dates from 1842, and is a bow to the fashion for anything oriental and exotic of those times, which dates from Napolean’s Egyptian campaign.
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793 – 1865) is regarded as „the Saint“ within the Viennese Biedermeier painters. Coming from very poor origins, he works as scene-painter before studying at the academy. Again, he learnt his trade by copying the old masters. Waldmüller‘s aim from the beginning on was to show the truth, and even more so: to be true himself. More versatile than for instance Amerling, he painted portraits, landscapes, flowers and genre pictures, the latter anchored in rural life.
The “old invalid with children” (lot 234) from 1827 depicts a war veteran surrounded by his grandchildren. Waldmüller might have seen this scene for himself, but gives it a fresh take. The artist wraps the truth in an ideal composition: a typical fine distinction in the art of the Biedermeier. The discrepancy in Waldmüller’s work is what makes the artist so delightful: We know how the situation played out, but then again, we can’t be sure of it.
Coincidentally, the “old invalid” is painted in the same year than Agricola’s “cupid”. This goes to show the incredible range of artistic creation in Vienna.
The unpretentious “country road in Hinterbrühl” in this auction (lot 240) originates from 1850, Waldmüller’s only concern here is the sunlight, how it shines onto the old wall and the dusty road. To achieve this kind of brightness, his color palette gets brighter also, and critics condemn his renderings as being too garish. 20 years later, the impressionists will try the same – however not by using more white as Waldmüller does, but by applying the colors of the rainbow such as red, blue, green and yellow. What will be born from this light, Waldmüller will not live to see.
Mag. Alexandra Markl, lawyer and freelance journalist; a visit to the exhibition „New Art from Vienna“ 2002 in Massachusetts started her steadily increasing interest in art.
127th Art Auction
9 April: OLD MASTERS & 19th-CENTURY PAINTINGS
10 April: ANTIQUES
Exhibition: 4– 10 April 2019
Catalogue order: +43 1 532 42 00 or online