Having decided that Wahle was part of the Munich Secessionist art movement based on his circle of friends, I sought out the catalogs for the Secessionist exhibits to see if he ever did show his art with this group. While I didn’t find many specifics about this paintings, I did find some key biographical information.
Posts from the ‘The Friedrich Wahle Project’ Category
So as part of the Friedrich Wahle Project, I am assembling a catalog of his drawings and paintings. Using mainly online auction records from the last three decades, I’ve managed to put together a pretty interesting list. So here is approximately what I know so far:
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.
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  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, 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  below.
 Uhr, Horst. Lovis Corinth. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Full text here.
On my continuing search for information on Friedrich Wahle, I found one auction description that mentioned he worked for Fliegende Blätter. Fliegende Blätter translates to “Flying Leaves” and was a prominent German journal of “humor and wit”. The paper was founded in 1845 shortly after Punch, the British satirical paper. It published weekly out of Munich until 1944. The journal was filled with comics, poems and short stories. Most of the available information about the journal is in German (which is becoming quite the trend with this research project). One reviewer notes that Fliegende Blätter was known for “unerring satirical characterization of the German bourgeoisie” and “a compendium of humorous social criticism”. (Or at least that’s what Google Translate tells me.) I found a contemporary essay about Fliegende Blätter (circa 1894) :
Its humor is thus spontaneous, natural, and universal. Its contributors are found in every rank – men and women, rich and poor, young and old. None is too wise and no too lowly to send the joke of the day to this paper.
Thankfully the Heidelberg University Library has the entire 100 year run digitized and online so I have been flipping through some issues, focusing mainly on years which Wahle was probably active. The illustrations are fantastic! The journal is approximately half text and half drawings which range from little comical sketches to full page paintings. The art definitely gets larger and more elaborate as the years progress. The images mostly feature daily life focusing on people presumably involved in the corresponding stories, with a few fantasy images thrown in as well. I am recognizing the artists from issue to issue so at least there was a set of professional illustrators that worked for the journal.
I’ve noticed that Emil Reinicke draws humorous, folksy caricatures of everyday people. The scenes and situations depicted are a little goofy but expertly drawn in a stylized way. Although I’m unsure of the spelling of his name, H. Soblittgen contributes some great ink drawings of society life.
One of the most skilled and most frequently featured artist appears to be René Reinicke. I’m not sure if he’s related to Emil above, but given his lifespan (1860-1926), R. Reinicke would have been a contemporary of Wahle. In some sources he is listed as a primary Fliegende Blätter artist. His style is similar to Wahle’s but subject matter tends to be very grand. R. Reinicke paints formal balls and outdoor scenes with everyone wearing the height of fashion.
Having gone through a few random years, I have seen about 40 Wahle paintings. On average, he was publishing 18 paintings a year in Fliegende Blätter but it was variable. Sometimes there are 4-6 paintings in one month followed by a 4month absence. I remain impressed with the quality and variety of his works.
Of course, my focus right now in going through issues of Fliegende Blätter is to find and catalog Wahle’s works. Regardless, I’m already noticing how the journal’s illustrations evolved over decades and were influenced by the Art Nouveau movement. There are some reoccurring characters (including one drawn by Wahle) that I’ll have to do a little more research on. I’m also curious to see how this comic, sometimes whimsical, journal handles World War I and II given that it published straight through to 1944. At the very least, I am definitely on the right track for understanding Friedrich Wahle’s style and putting together his portfolio. Who knows, The Discourse may be in one of these issues!
 “A German Comic Paper (Fliegende Blätter)” by William DeLancy Ellwanger and C. M. Robinson, 1894, published unknown (access from Univ. of Toronto collection)
So what is this painting that inspired the Friedrch Wahle Project? Let me described “The Discourse” for you and hopefully you’ll understand why I want to know more about it.
The parlor setting suggests importance with its sparkling chandeliers, large vase, fine furniture and tall windows. I’m imagining a palace in which this is some elegant anti-chamber. The younger man’s high collar, mustache, tail-coat and shiny shoes seem very fashionable and certainly trendier than his companion’s clothes. I’m struck by how formal and erect the younger man is sitting. The way he holds his papers like a shield in his lap seems defensive. The old man is rumbled and slouching. His face is weary but concerned. The older man leads in toward the other man but leaves his left hand in his pocket rather than gesture as if lecturing the younger man.
I see these two men as political insiders waiting for an audience with a Duke or Emperor. The younger man is mid-career and rising, duty-bound, loyal and a strict believer in protocol. Perhaps aspiring to become part of the inner circle, he’s working to make himself indispensable to the Duke and maybe has the details to some special project in his folio. On the other hand, the older man has a long history in the court. He was maybe even an adviser to the Duke’s father and is there to ask another favor using his long years of service as collateral. He understands restraint, compassion and compromise. Maybe they’ve never met before, but he knows of the younger man and is trying gently to offer some advice. Clearly the younger man is not having any of this. This delicate tension is very fascinating to me. What does the experienced man say to the assured, determined man? What happens when the Duke’s attendant brings one of them in and the two story-lines diverge? I can’t look at his painting without imagining some other way their conversation may have played out.
Aside from the narrative elements of the painting, it is well executed. The time period in which Wahle worked (broadly 1883-1927) saw the rise and heights of Impressionists which I can see influenced this piece. There is still an incredible amount of detail and realism in the old man’s face which balances out the broad strokes of flooring that give way to blank art board around the signature. If this was an illustration and therefore printed in black and white, the blue-gray canvas makes sense. It also means the beautiful dab of red on the old man’s label was bit of whimsy on Wahle’s part. (I guess it’s also just as likely that the red was added later but that’s going to be very hard to prove either way.) The overall color of the piece does seem a little drab and yellowed; at some point I will look into having the painting cleaned.
The frame appears to be period to the painting; it is not however in good condition. There are a couple of chips to two of the decorative elements and the bottom corners appear to be partially rebuilt with some type of painted putty. I can’t imagine that the damage was recent because the painting (oil on artist’s board) is nailed into the frame and has the tale-tail oxidation of time. Paper clearly covered the back of the frame but its been cut off a long time ago. There is no writing on the back of the painting beside the London based board manufacturer’s watermark.
I know very little about the provenance of the painting. It was consigned to auction from an estate sale. The consigner seemed to think that it was once sold at Sotheby’s or Christie’s although there are no labels on the back of the paint to suggest this. (And of course naming the big international auction houses makes a work seem more valuable if you’re trying to sell it.) I can make some estimate on the painting’s date based on the men’s clothes. I think the younger man’s high collar was popular around 1890-1910 but I could look into that some more. The older man’s mutton chops are definitely not much help.