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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Phillip Otto Runge

Peter Walks on Water, 1806, Phillip Otto Runge
Anyone who has ever had an art class can usually recall the three primary colors and their place on the classic color wheel, forming a triangle within a circle. These are augmented by the three secondary colors to form a second triangle, overlying the first, rotated sixty degrees. Combined,they form a six-pointed star. That, even for the novice, is relatively simple. It begins to get more complicated as one begins to fill in all the transitional colors of the rainbow falling between each of the appropriate star points. However, things really get complex when the artists begins to add tints and shades to his or her theoretical chart. Tints indicate the presence of white, which lightens the value of each color. Black, lowers the value of each color to form shades. (Not to be confused by intensity of various colors.) An accurate presentation of all this is simply impossible on a flat, two-dimensional wheel chart. The German Romantic painter, around 1809, Phillip Otto Runge, was the first (or among the first) to realize this fact. Instead of a wheel, he came to realize that a sphere was the best shape by which to demonstrate the three primary and three secondary colors plus the addition of white or black to each one.
Drawing Hands, 1798, Phillip Otto Runge

Self-portrait in a Blue Shirt,
1805, Philipp Otto Runge
Phillip Runge was born in 1777. He was the ninth of eleven children born into a family of Wolgast, shipbuilders (Western Pomerania, a Swedish enclave in the northeast corner of present-day Germany). Had he not been a rather sickly child, Runge might well have joined the family business. Inasmuch as he often missed school, his mother taught him the art of scissor-cut silhouettes. Thus bitten by the "art bug", while serving as an apprentice in his older brother's shipbuilding company, Runge also took art classes at the Copenhagen Academy. Runge's Drawing Hands (above) from 1798, demonstrates his early drawing skills. With the continued financial support of his brother, Runge moved to Dresden where he encountered fellow students, Casper David Frederick, and his future wife, Pauline Bassenge (below), whom he married three years later. About the same time, Runge met the German poet, critic, and scientist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with whom he collaborated in his color studies during the remainder of his life.
Self-portrait of the Artist (right) Together with His Wife, Pauline, and his brother, Johann Daniel Runge (left), Philipp Otto Runge
Despite the fact Runge is best known as a color theorist, he was also a consummate, highly individualized, portrait artist. However, most of his surviving work centers around his family--his parents (below, left) and his wife and son (below, right). Yes, despite appearances, the child is a boy. His Peter Walks on Water (top) dates from these early years.

The Artist's Parents, 1806,
Philipp Otto Runge
The Artist's Wife and Son,
1807, Philipp Otto Runge
Runge's color theories grew naturally from his experiences in using color. Although other artists had demonstrated primary and secondary color relationships using triangles, wheels, and other graphic devices, Runge simply started where they left off, visualizing the color wheel as a sort of "equator" disk horizontally dissecting a globe over which he positioned tints (using white) on the "northern" hemisphere and shades (using black) on the "southern" half as demonstrated by his illustration (below) from Farben-Kugel (color sphere), a groundbreaking treatise on the subject published in 1810.
Color Spheres, 1809, Philipp Otto Runge

The Lesson of the Nightingale,
1804-05, Philipp Otto Runge
Phillip Otto Runge might have had a greater impact on the world of art and color except for two factors. First, he died of tuberculosis in 1810 shortly after Farbenkugel was published. Thus he was denied the opportunity to refine and promote his color theories, which were taken up by the Frenchman, Michel Eugène Chevreul, and the American painter, instructor, and inventor, Albert Henry Munsell (the Munsell Color System still in use today). Quite apart from his premature death at the age of thirty-three, and the end of his color studies, as Runge's health deteriorated, he turned his attention and talents to painting those he loved most. Runge seems to have been exceptional in his ability to paint children, as seen in his The Hulsenbeck Children (below) from 1805. 
The Hülsenbeck Children, 1805. Philipp Otto Runge
When Runge died, his children were quite young. His fourth child was born after his death. The Artist's Children (below, right) allows us to follow the growth of his son, Otto Sigismund (below, left) from baby to toddler. However, as talented and astute as Runge certainly was, he was also a man of many interests including botany, as seen in his Amaryllis Formosissima (below, right) from 1808.

Otto Sigismund in the
Star Dress (the artist's
son),1805, Phillip
Otto Runge
The Artists Children, Maria Dorothea and Otto
Sigismund Runge, 1809, Phillip Otto Runge

Amaryllis Formosissima,
1808, Philipp Otto Runge
Perhaps as a result of his early association with the German Romantic painter, Casper David Fredrick, Runge has long been termed a Romantic artist, though his brief career ended before this era was to reach its height around 1830-50. Nonetheless, Runge's Great Morning (below), also painted during the final year of his life, is considered his masterpiece. In it Runge tried to express his ideas as to the harmony of the universe through the symbolism of color, form, and numbers. He considered blue, yellow, and red to be the symbols of the Christian trinity. He equated blue with God and the night. Red he saw as symbolizing the morning, and yellow represented the Holy Spirit. Runge also wrote poetry and planned a series of four paintings to be titled, The Times of the Day, intended to be seen in a building he designed himself so they might be viewed to the accompaniment of music and his poetry. Several Romantic artist during this era tried to achieve a fusion among the forms of art. Earlier, in 1803, Runge had large-format engravings made of the drawings of the Times of the Day series. These became commercially successful which prompted the painting of two versions of Morning. The others did not advance beyond drawings. Morning signaled the start of a new type of landscape painting embraced by Frederick and others--one of religion and emotion.
The Great Morning, 1809-10, Philipp Otto Runge

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