Gerson Digital : Germany II


6.2 Fine Painting and Still-Life

Apart from this harking back, there also was a continuous tradition of Dutch influence from the 17th into the 18th century in places where the Dutch fine painters gained a foothold in Germany. Düsseldorf (Adriaen van der Werff, Eglon van der Neer) and Kassel (Philip van Dijk) are the best examples for this, but it can be found also at smaller courts such as Ansbach (Johann Christian Sperling) and Mainz (Arnold Boonen). This fine painting in the French-Dutch taste didn’t meet with any resistance. It connected the careful, loving execution, which was and is a highly appreciated quality of Dutch art, with French composition and elegance. Today we see this mixed style merely as a symptom of decline, whereas at the time it was regarded as wholesome Dutch art. On the other hand it is noteworthy, that the Dutch, large-scale history painting of the later time (Theodor van der Schuer, Augustus Terwesten, Ottmar Elliger II) was generally much less appreciated. Maybe people understood that in this case French influence had destroyed the essential.

The fine painters, who also had their imitators and followers in Germany in the first decades of the 18th century (Johann Christian Sperling, the Quitter family), achieved even more. A large group of portraitists took their example: they wanted to make a realistic middle-class portrait, instead of the decorative-pompous courtly type. Instead of the light Rococo colouring they took over the darker brownish metallic hue from Gerard Dou, connected with an artificial lighting effect, which was also favoured by Arnold Boonen and Adriaen van der Werff. The realistic, in contrast with the decorative, consisted of a painstakingly accurate design, which could degenerate into pedantry. Balthasar Denner and Christian Seybold belong to the first and most consistent artists in this category. In Southern Germany, where this style only had a few supporters, it was represented very early by Mányoki. Dominicus van der Smissen, Jacob Denner, Johann Georg Dathan were other aficionados of this kind of painting, which could even cross over to a certain kind of Rembrandt imitation. The German artists preferably limited themselves to the Rembrandt of the Leiden period, when Gerard Dou was his pupil and in a sense kept to his ‘precise’ style. The late works of Johann Kupezky show the quality and beauty which can result from such a style of portraiture.

The Dutch flower still-life owes its continuation into the 18th century to the same level of esteem for fine painting and a love for all things small. Here almost exclusively ‘followers’ of Rachel Ruysch, Abraham Mignon and Jan van Huijsum dominated the field. They trained themselves in the academies and the galleries, where these Dutch still-lifes were given a place of honour at the time. The decoratively constructed and carefully executed still-life was particularly appreciated. Artists like Willem Kalf and Abraham van Beyeren, on the other hand, were not properly valued; not even the paintings by Willem van Aelst and Henri Fromentiou and other courtly hunting still-lifes could assert their position in the 18th century. The trompe l’oeil-painting, which was so much admired in the 17th century, got almost completely forgotten (with the exception of Jan Antonin Vocásek).

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