Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) should be familiar to visitors to Rome. He essentially created the Baroque city that we see today producing sculptures, fountains, buildings and the majority of the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica. Considering that he started creating accurate portrait busts at 14 and continued to work until he was 82, Bernini is deservedly known as a prolific genius. But did you know that even his work was occasionally rejected? Read more
Posts tagged ‘portraiture’
It’s the beginning of November and time for the monthly ArtSmart Roundtable in which several art history-loving travelers post on a theme. You can see links at the bottom to the other posts in the group. I’ve always loved portraiture, but for November’s ArtSmart Roundtable on art genre’s, I am going to focus on a special kind of portrait – the self-portrait.
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.
Thanks to the US $1, George Washington has one of the most recognizable faces in America. This President’s Day, I got to thinking about that portrait and two excellent exhibits I saw a few years ago at Mount Vernon and the National Gallery about the real likeness of George Washington.
The dollar and a large number of contemporary and future Washington paintings are based on an unfinished portrait done by Gilbert Stuart in 1796. At the time of the sitting, George was 64 and retired to Mount Vernon. His teeth had been a constant source of pain since the first one was extracted when he was 22. When he started his presidency, only one real tooth remained in his head. Several sets of dentures were made for Washington over his life by incorporating human teeth and carved bone or tusk teeth into a metal cage. None these were reported to have fit well and must have caused him considerable discomfort.
On the day Washington sat for Gilbert Stuart, he was struggling with a set of false teeth. Stuart notes, “When I painted him, he had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which accounts for the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face.” Look back at Stuart’s portrait. Washington’s jaw does appears to be clenched, pushed somewhat forward and bulky. This immediately recognizable portrait is likely not the most realistic.
Eleven years before the Stuart portrait, sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon met with Washington a made a life mask – a process in which plaster is applied to a face for an accurate sculptural model. This likeness seems less tense and the jaw line less protruded.
This life mask and the bust Houdon made from it were used by Mount Vernon to create “the real George Washington”. Through an interesting forensic anthropology project, the sculptures an other artifacts were scanned, analyzed and used to construct three wax faces meant to represent George Washington at 19, 45 and 57 year of age. Life-sized figures were created by examining existing clothing and written descriptions of the Washington’s posture. (You can watch a short video about the process done by the History Channel here.) The end result is incredibly impressive. The three Washington figures were one my favorite parts of visiting Mount Vernon as they help piece together a more life-like representation an American legends.