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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Georg Friedrich Kersting

View of Rostock Gertrude square,  1809, Georg Friedrich Kersting
Georg Friedrich Kersting,
Self-portrait, 1814
For twenty-six years, I taught impudent young Ohio brats kids what art was all about. Although I've always enjoyed helping others learn (adults and children), that was only one part of my decision to major in art education in college and obtain a teaching certificate. The other factor was, I enjoy eating, and better yet, not having to worry about where my next meal might be coming from--security. Tenure is a wonderful thing. There was also the fact that I love to travel, enjoy long vacations, and liked the short summers when I was free to paint and sell (or try to) the fruits of my easel. The work was fun, though stressful, and when it was neither it was boring, but everyone has to make sacrifices. I paid my dues. Had I chosen a full-time career as a painter, I might have become rich and famous or, more likely, poor and obscure. Teaching allowed me a place somewhere in the middle of both, the best of the worst, the worst of the best, you might say. The German painter, Georg Friedrich Kersting was in the same situation. He painted quiet interiors with lovely ladies, as well as passable portraits, but he also had a day job. Kersting, well, for lack of a simpler job description...painted pottery.

Some of Kersting's dinner plate designs for Biedermeir.
In all fairness, while he probably applied his hand to quite a number of dinner plates, it's more likely he simply created various designs (or patterns as we'd call them today, above) then trained and directed other, somewhat less-talented artisans in reproducing them onto the Biedermeier porcelain made in the town of Meissen, Germany (the far eastern part Germany near the Polish border). Kersting began working there in 1818 and continued until his death in 1847 at the age of sixty-two. An artist friend, Louise Seidler, referred to him as "an altogether splendid and comical fellow."

The Embroiderer, 1811,
Georg Kersting
Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio,
1811, Georg Kersting
If one is known by the company they keep, then Kersting was in good company. His best friend was the German Romantic artist, Caspar David Friedrich (above, left), who introduced him to the German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who introduced him to the Grand Duke Charles Augustus of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (one of several Prussian duchies dating back to medieval times). Keep in mind, Kersting, was born in 1785 and lived at a time when Germany had not yet coalesced into a single nation, awaiting the arrival of Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1871. Goethe recommended the duke purchase Kersting's The Embroiderer, (above, right) painted in 1811. There's no indication the duke took his advice. Despite knowing all the right people, and being a somewhat better than average artist, Kersting's work never sold well during his lifetime.

Moonrise by the Sea, 1822, Caspar David Friedrich.
By 1822 he was probably painting his own "staffage."
Faust in his Study, 1829,
Georg Kersting.
Though he often accompanied Friedrich on painting "hikes" into the mountains and is even said to have painted "staffage" (human figures and decorations) into some of his friend's early Romantic, landscapes, and was undoubtedly influenced by Friedrich, his academic training came from the Copenhagen Academy. Moreover, his style tend toward the Dutch tradition, along with his fascination for everyday-life genre painting (also a Dutch trait)--not exactly the type of work to interest a grand duke. Kersting tried moving to Dresden where he painted for a time before resorting to joining the all-volunteer, Lützow Free Corps of the Prussian Army in 1813. A year later he moved to Poland where he tried his hand at being a drawing instructor. That didn't work out either. Kersting's Faust in his Study (left), from 1829 may have been an attempt to sell Goethe a portrait of his most famous character. Despite a career that seemed to be going nowhere, Kersting married in 1818. During the next thirty years, as his family grew to include four children, his unglamorous position as chief artist at Biedermeier Porcelain must have come as something of a comforting relief from the arduous and unsuccessful effort to become a famous artist like his friend Caspar David Friedrich.

Young Woman at a Spinning Wheel and Boy with Swords and Drum,
1828, Georg Kersting, possibly his wife and son.


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