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Monday, November 20, 2017

Pedro Weingärtner

Ballerinas, 1896, Pedro Weingärtner
We are at a broad point in the natural evolution of art, transitioning from the era of Modern Art to that of Postmodern Art. This transition began with the passing of Minimalism in the 1970s, the anticlimax of roughly one-hundred years Modernism commencing with Impressionism around the 1860s. During this period Modern Art evolved in a gradual, somewhat orderly progression propelled to a great extent by the technical and aesthetic revolution brought on by photography. Photography not only taught artists new ways of producing art but new ways of thinking about art as well. The transition from Modern Art to Postmodern Art has been so gradual that many artist have hardly noticed. Certainly their outdated wall decorations give no indication of such awareness. For the most part, the movement from one era to another has more to do with undertakers than artists. When artists die, they take with them the old styles and old ways of thinking. Their place is taken by a new generation, having been trained in Postmodernism and all that term entails.
The identity of the figure in the upper-left corner is questionable.
The painting is titled The Notary.
The Brazilian painter, Pedro Weingärtner endured much the same transition during the 1890s until his death in 1929. The difference was that he was on the front end of the Modern Art juggernaut--trained classically, and largely unable or unwilling to "go with the flow" of Modern Art as "one thing led to another." Pedro Weingärtner was born in Porto Alegre (southern) Brazil in 1853. If the given name and the family name seem not to correlate, there's a good reason for that--his parents were German immigrants. He was probably introduced to the art by his father, who was an amateur draftsman. At the age of twenty-four, Weingärtner decided to dedicate himself to painting. He went to study in Europe at his own expense. After some time and some money difficulties, he gained a grant from Brazil's emperor, Dom Pedro II. Weingärtner spent several years attending famous academies and receiving guidance from distinguished teachers.

Too Late, 1890, Pedro Weingärtner. The painting appears to depict a traveling salesman arriving at a mercantile establishment after the owner has already been sold a bill of goods by a female competitor.
After finishing his preparations Weingartner installed himself in an atelier in Rome, but he traveled frequently to Brazil. Although he had been absent from Brazil for many years, Weingärtner asked permission from the emperor for a six-month visit to his fatherland. He arrived in Porto Alegre in August 1887 and was received with a party in a ship full of friends and admirers. Although on vacation, Weingärtner painted several portraits which made a very positive impression. He also showed works brought from Europe, which became the objects of several positive notes and articles in the press. Due to his commitments, Weingärtner left Porto Alegre in November, and went to Rio de Janeiro, where he held his first solo exhibition in February 1888. He presented ten works. The event was a success. Weingärtner took advantage of his stay in the city to visit the emperor in order to express his gratitude for the financial assistance he'd received. During the meeting the monarch marveled at the canvas titled Rights, which he saw in a photograph brought by the artist. Informed that the work had been sent to him from Europe as a gift, the emporer informed him that it had never been delivered. Weingärtner eventually discovered that it had been held at the customs house as unclaimed, and therefore had been put up for auction. The artist had great difficulty locating and retrieving it from the buyer. The case was widely commented upon in the press and attracted additional public exposure for the exhibition that was in progress. Weingärtner had many other exhibitions, gaining sufficient fame to be considered one of the best Brazilian painters of his time.

Offering to the god Pan, 1893, Pedro Weingärtner.
Weingärtner lived in a period of profound changes in the society and culture of the West. Two radically different models of civilization clashed. He was a faithful and disciplined follower of the most conservative academic principles, but did not remain oblivious to the changing world around him. His vast and polymorphous work is a sensitive reflection of the contradictions of his time. His style fuses neoclassical, romantic, naturalistic and realistic elements, expressed in landscapes, genre scenes and portraits. He also focused on classical and mythological themes (below). Yet, his most notable contribution to Brazilian art is probably his paintings of regional inspiration, portraying immigrants and gauchos in their typical activities, which have great aesthetic and documentary value inasmuch as he was a pioneer in this thematic field. Weingartner had a refined technique that paid close attention to detail, at times approached photographic fidelity.

A caldarium is a hot bath while, as the name suggests, a frigidarium features unheated water.
After his vacation, Weingärtner returned to Rome, where he began an especially fertile period in his career, working tirelessly and visiting places of historical and artistic interest, such as ruins, museums and monuments. He developed a special fascination as to the aura of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which fed his love for antiquity and opened a new repertoire of formal motifs and models. Rome, although no longer the focus of the European artistic avant-garde as it had been for centuries before, was still a major cultural center, chosen as the home of other important Brazilian artists such as Zeferino da Costa and Henrique Bernardelli, who painted Weingarten's portrait. His workshop, a friend noted, "...was a veritable repository of things of art, methodically grouped together as he works from sun[up] to sun[down]. Weingärtner spent his summers in the village of Anticoli Corrado (about ten miles northwest of Rome) where he enjoying the bright and colorful landscape of the region, which appears in several of his works. Until 1920 Weingärtner divided his time between Italy and Brazil, where his collective exhibitions, generally sold well, sometimes the whole lot to a single buyer.

Revolutionaries, Pedro Weingärtner. The work is undated but probably depicts Italian revolutionaries.
Elizabeth Schmitt
(the painters wife), 1918,
Pedro Weingärtner
In 1912 Weingärtner was again in Rome, but he did not linger there. Fellow artist and friend, Angelo Guido, explained that the Weingärtner was in crisis: "He had come to one of these critical points in the life of the artist, who, being fulfilled, at the same time faces the impossibility of going further or continuing the ascent or top work as strenuously as before. He does not seem to have the courage to face some of those compositions of classic motifs or of living human content that have established his reputation. He is limited to painting small frames of genre, where the creative spirit is not present, but his technical ability, which was highly developed. He needed new motives, a new natural and human landscape to excite him." In 1913 Weingärtner returned to Brazil. Passing through Rio, he showed several works, with excellent reviews. He set up a studio in his home, and despite advancing age, still felt vigorous, continuing his artistic production at an intense pace. He worked on several themes, but gave special attention to landscapes, portraying the scenarios of various nearby localities (below).

Portraits of gauchos chimarreando, Pedro Weingärtner
Weingärtner continued to exhibit regularly in Porto Alegre and in the center of the country. As always, was received favorably. But little by little the weight of the years made themselves felt. He began to experience some motor difficulties and his vision weakened. He did not travel much. In 1925, always faithful to his academic aesthetics, he made his last exhibition in Porto Alegre, which was weakly received. Times were changing; a new model of civilization and culture was fermenting, and its style already sounded like an anachronism. After that the master was no longer seen in public. In 1927 Weingärtner suffered a stroke that left him a paraplegic and seriously impaired his lucidity and memory. The artist died the day after Christmas, 1929. Several newspapers reported his death, but did not speak of him with the same enthusiasm as before.

Studies, Pedro Weingärtner


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