Movement: German Romanticism, Genre Painting, Biedermeier Movement
Carl Spitzweg’s Famous Artworks
“The Poor Poet,” 1839
“Gnome Watching Railway,” 1848
“The Bookworm,” 1850
“The Serenade,” 1854
“A Woodland,” 1860
Carl Spitzweg was a German
painter, poet and humorist, best known for his illustrations of the Biedermeier period of art. Although his paintings are popular more for their subject matter than skill, he is among the most commonly forged artists of all time.
Carl Spitzweg’s Early Life
The second of Simon Spitzweg and his wife Franziska’s three sons, Carl Spitzweg was born in the Bavarian city Unterpfaffenhofen in 1808. His father was an affluent merchant who encouraged an education in pharmacy, which Spitzweg pursued at the University of Munich. Ironically, a long drawn out illness prevented him from ever practicing and it was at this point that his interest in art developed.
Carl Spitzweg’s Education
He began a course of self-study by replicating the work of the great Flemish masters and contributing pieces to satirical magazines, although it was only when an inheritance made him independent that Spitzweg could totally commit to a career in art. With John Burnet’s “Treatise on Painting” as a study manual, he started an expedition through the great cities of Europe, visiting museums and galleries in Venice
, Belgium and Prague.
In 1847, he formed a close friendship with Moritz von Schwind, with whom he traveled to Paris four years later to attend the World’s Fair, along with Eduard Schleich and a few other artists. After the spectacle of the fair, Spitzweg sailed for London, curious about the work of John Constable and William Turner. Meanwhile, as he toured the continent, he copied paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and Baroque masters such as Cornelis van Poelenburgh, Gonzales Coques and Nicolaes Berghem.
Carl Spitzweg’s Life
In 1858, Spitzweg spent some time in the town of Rothenburg in Bavaria. Apart from occasional visits from Moritz Schwind, his tenure there was solitary. He rented a small attic room and lived ascetically, observing the declining medieval city and making notes about its “architectural jewels”.
He began seeing more critical and financial success from 1860, especially for his humorous drawings in the Fliegende Blätter, which became immensely popular for their rose-tinted version of the life of the German everyman. Working within the retrospective style exemplified by his painting, “Der Arme Poet,” (The Poor Poet), 1839, Spitzweg represented the Biedermeier ideal with sensitivity and technical sophistication.
In 1865, he was presented with the Bavarian Royal Merit Order of St. Michael and welcomed into the Academy of Visual Arts as an honorary member three years later, despite the fact that he had no formal training as an artist.
He died in September of 1885 in Munich.
Carl Spitzweg’s Posthumous Success
In 1929, the leader of the Nazi party, Adolf Hitler, bought one of Carl Spitzweg’s paintings
. It was his first serious purchase as a collector and Spitzweg was one of his favorites — perhaps because of his ability to capture middle-class life in the 19th century or simply because he was not a Jew. In the years leading up to the Second World War, the value of Spitzweg’s work escalated by almost five hundred percent.
Because of the extreme demand for his work, a copyist from Traunstein named Toni began forging a number of small paintings and selling them as originals. When the case was brought to trial in the late 1930s, the Stuttgart Criminal Court Assizes convicted the artist and his collaborators to ten years in prison for the forgery of 54 paintings. Art lovers can buy Carl Spitzweg’s artworks online.
Carl Spitzweg’s Major Exhibitions
1981 - Metropolitan Musem of Art, New York
2003 - Haus der Kunst, Munich
2015 - Grohmann Museum, Milwaukee
Carl Spitzweg’s Museums/Collections
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
Von der Neydt-Museum, Wuppertal
Kunstmuseum Saint Gallen
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford
Milwaukee Art Museum
“Carl Spitzweg,” by Lisa Schirmer
“Carl Spitzweg,” by Jens Christian Jensen
“Carl Spitzweg,” by Manfredd Boos
“Carl Spitzweg: Der Kunstler und seine Zeit,” by Gerd Betz
“Carl Spitzweg Malerparadies,” by Manuel Albrecht