Gerson Digital : Germany II


3.2 Goethe and Dutch Art

To treat Goethe’s knowledge of Dutch art here in-depth, lies outside the scope of our investigation. Moreover one can find what is worth knowing in the repeatedly cited writings of Münz and Leber.1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) became acquainted with Rembrandt’s art through the circle in Frankfurt of Johann Georg Trautmann and Adam Friedrich Oeser, but then more particularly in Dresden through the pictures in the gallery and Dietrich’s paintings. For Goethe, Rembrandt was ‘a higher Ostade’.2 He copied his landscape etching B. 236 twice and he owned a series of beautiful late drawings by the artist, to which only an inner understanding and admiration could have driven him. But when we look through the collection of drawings in the Goethe house in Weimar with a critical eye, we find numerous works of the Rembrandt school and under the Dutch school definitely many insignificant sheets. His Joseph Relating his Dreams to his Family, which was highly esteemed at the time, is just a copy after Rembrandt’s etching B. 37 [1-2]. We have to take in account though, that Goethe, as a collecting amateur, was primarily interested in the subject and the invention, not in the personal drawing hand, like a connoisseur of works on paper.

Joseph recounting his dreams, dated 1638
paper, etching 110 x 830 mm
lower left : Rembrandt f. 1638
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet

after Rembrandt
Joseph relating his dreams to his family (Genesis 37:5-11), second half 18th century
paper, inkt ? x ? mm
Weimar (Thüringen), Goethe Nationalmuseum

After viewing the Picture Gallery in Dresden, he described what the Dutch masters meant to him: ‘to see nature in art became with me a passion which in its highest moments could not but appear to other, even impassionated, art lovers almost like madness; and how could such an inclination be better nourished than through the constant contemplation of the excellent works of the Netherlands painters’ [4-5].3 His own landscape drawings however do not betray any schooling in the basis of Dutch art, but rather a studying of Claude Lorrain [3].

Painting in Frankfurt in those years was rich in Rembrandtian images of all kinds. Amateurs, engravers and painters were really competing in this area. The authors of Frankfurt’s art history Hüsgen and Von Gwinner list many names, that mean nothing to us nowadays. Who knows anything about J. Schraebelin or Johann Benjamin Ehrenreich (1733-1806),4 who made etchings in the manner of Rembrandt [6-8]? The same goes for Charlotte von Barckhaus-Wiesenhütten (1736-1804) and her daughter Louise von Panhuys (1763-1844), who also made watercolours and etchings.5

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Chapel of the Virgin Mary in Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary), dated 1808
paper, pen in brown ink, brown wash, pencil 105 x 170 mm
lower right : Goethe 1808
Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, inv./ ZV 35

Landscape with a boat, dated 1650
paper, etching, drypoint 83 x 108 mm
lower left : Rembrandt.f.1650
Weimar (Thüringen), Goethe Nationalmuseum

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe after Rembrandt
Landscape with a boat, dated 1786
paper, pencil, black chalk ? x ? mm
in verso : R.86
Weimar (Thüringen), Goethe Nationalmuseum

Johann Benjamin Ehrenreich
Man with turban reading a book, dated 1750
paper, etching 95 x 71 mm
center right : Ehrenreich 1750
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP_P-OB-11.959

Johann Benjamin Ehrenreich
Man with a turban leans on a stick, dated 1750
paper, etching 95 x 71 mm
upper left : Ehrenreich 1750
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Johann Benjamin Ehrenreich
Man with turban and a woman and dog, dated 1750
paper, etching 95 x 73 mm
upper left : Ehrenreich 1750
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


1 [Gerson 1942/1983] Münz 1934; Leber 1924. See also: Henkel 1922, Wethly 1937, Scholte 1940.

2 [Gerson 1941/1983] Münz 1934, p. 59 (‘Rembrandt ist für Goethe ein gesteigerter, grösserer Ostade’ = Rembrandt is for Goethe an increased, greater Van Ostade) seems to go too far in this respect, although the minor masters also fascinated Goethe. He mentioned Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol in one breath.

3 [Gerson 1942/1983] Robson-Scott 1981, p. 25.

4 [Gerson 1942/1983] A certain Mr. Ehrenreich owned the ‘Rembrandt’ painting Man with monkey, that Nothnagel etched. [Van Leeuwen 2018] The 'Mr le Conseiller Ehrenreich à Francfort' mentioned in the caption of the print after the painting as the owner of the painting, is probably Johann Matthias Ehrenreich, not his son Johann Benjamin.

5 [Van Leeuwen 2018] According to Von Gwinner, Charlotte von Barkhaus-Wieshütten made a genre painting of a boy at half-length with an open music book in the manner of Rembrandt. Her daughter Louise Friederike Panhuys-Barkhaus-Wiesenhütten (1763-1844) made landscape drawings in the manner of Anthoni van Waterloo and Frederik de Moucheron; later she followed the footsteps of Maria Sybille Merian (Gwinner 1862, p. 353-355).

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