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A Portrait of Wahle and His Friends

I’m obviously curious to know what Friedrich Wahle looked like.  While research his catalog, I’ve been scouring for a known portrait.  It looks like I may have found a little something – Wahle in caricature.

Friedrich Wahle in the upper left, from "Caricatures" (1) by Lovis Corinth

It may not be the best physical likeness but it goes a long way to understand Wahle and his friends.  The sketch comes from a biography [2] by Horst Uhr of Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) who was a well known German artist whose work ranged from Impressionism to Expressionism.  Corinth moved to Munich in 1880 to study art at the Academy of Fine Arts.  In 1884, he left for Antwerp, then Paris and finally returned to Munich in 1891.  He was a member of the Secessionist (or modern art) movement which was founded shortly after his return to Munich.  Five years older than Wahle, it is unclear if Lovis and Friedrich met each other at the Academy or through the active Munich art world, but by 1896 they have clearly become friends.

The caricature drawing by Lovis Corinth was completed around 1896. The upper right figure is a self-portrait of Corinth.  The central figure is Benno Becker (1860-1938) a painter, art collector, art critic and founding member of the Secessionist movement in Munich.  The lower left figure in profile is Hermann Eichfield (1845-1917).  After a stint in the Prussian army, Eichfield came to Munich to study art, contributed to literary magazines and was a founding member of the Secessionist movement.  Finally, in the upper left is Friedrich Wahle.

It’s important here to note a distinction between the two artistic movements in Germany during the late 19th century:  the Secessionists and the the Jugendstil (or Art Nouveau).  Horst Uhr notes in the biography that this caricature has elements of the Jugendstil with its “curvilinear patterns and capricious arabesques” and may have been a playful jaunt by Corinth into that style.  However, Corinth and the other Secessionists were decidedly modern.  They wanted to pursue art outside the traditional and academic style which meant they were more aligned with the Impressionist movement.  Even still, Corinth’s incredible self-portrait below with a skeleton looks contemporary even by 21st century standards.

Given the associations of the other men in the caricature, I would be surprised  if Wahle was not a part of the Secessionist art movement in Munich at the time.  Since Corinth, Eichfield and Becker were also very involved in the foundation of this movement, Wahle may have been more connected than I first envisioned and definitely more than just a commercial artist for magazines.

It’s interesting what kind of clues you can get from a little cartoon portrait!

Lovis Corinth, "Self-Portrait with Skeleton", 1896 (Lenbachhaus Art Museum, Munich)

"Portrait of the Painter Benno Becker" by Lovis Corinth, 1892 (Von der Heydt Museum) - a slightly more realistic likeness than the central caricature figure

Benno Becker "River bank near Bologna" (Galerie Konrad Bayer)

Hermann Eichfeld, "Country Road with Approaching Storm", 1895. Sold at auction in 2009.

[1] Lovis Corinth, Caricatures , c. 1896. Pencil, 32.6 × 23.7 cm. Formerly Collection Johannes Guthmann, Ebenhausen; present whereabouts unknown. Photo courtesy Hans-Jürgen Imiela.  Appears on page 87 of [2] below.

[2] Uhr, Horst. Lovis Corinth. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1990. Full text here.

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