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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eduard von Grutzner

Too Much, Edward von Grutzner
Eduard von Grutzner, ca 1875,
William Merritt Chase
There are several different factors which make an artist outstanding and play a part in my deciding which ones to highlight. First and foremost tends to be simple name recognition. If people are going to type "Picasso" into their search engines, I'd damned well better have a piece on Picasso. Of course, in the case of "A List" artists such as Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, etc., I'll have several items, each dealing with various interesting aspects of the artists' work. Beyond that, the "B List" artist tend to be those most artists have heard of but are somewhat less than household names. Manet, Tintoretto, Holbein, and Sargent might reasonably reside on such a list. The "C List" contains artists whom I'm familiar with but most people aren't--even most artists. Here you get into first and last names, Lucas Cranach, Jasper Johns, Fra Angelico, Giacomo Balla, etc. And finally, the "D List," artists whom I've never before encountered (but should have). Here, the list of criteria for inclusion gets rather long and subjective. Such considerations would include technical proficiency, academic training, subjective content, themes, lifestyle, historic coincidences, associations with historic figures, personalities, tragedy and pathos. Then in the final analysis, there's the very personal factor, do I like the artist's work?
Cardinal with Singing and Drinking White Fathers, Eduard von Grutzner
Monk with a Beard, 1878, Eduard
von Grutzner, one of his earlier
monks, apparently stone cold sober.
Eduard von Grutzner is definitely "D List." His professional qualification are adequate, if not spectacular, and all else being equal, he's a pretty interesting guy. However, when it comes to liking his work, he rates a definite "thumbs up." I mean, any artist who can make his entire career just painting drunk monks certainly rates well above your average, run-of-the-mill, turn-of-the-century, German genre painter. Ed Grutzner was born in 1846 in an obscure area of Prussia called Upper Silesia, now Southeastern Poland. (It could be Al Capp's Lower Slobbovia for all I know.) He was the proverbial child prodigy who grew up drawing on anything he could get his hands on. Though of peasant stock, his talents were recognized by the local clergy, who saw to it he got the much needed early art training, which so often can make or break such talent. This included a school of arts and crafts (the Germans pioneered such institutions) as well as private instruction and eventually, the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, from which he may or may not have graduated around 1870.
Gossip in the Monastery, 1887, Eduard von Grutzner
--funny, but not very flattering.

The Cardinal, Eduard Grutzner
In any case, Grutzner set up shop in Munich where he was nothing if not prolific, churning out paintings as fast or faster than he could sell them. He was so well like, his work so admired, he was awarded the honorary nickname of "professor." Once he started becoming successful, Grutzner married. He and his wife began raising a daughter. In 1884, however, his wife died. Four years later he remarried the daughter of the Munich garrison commander, who bore him a son. His second wife was some seventeen years younger than Grutzner and shortly after the birth of their son, left him for a Viennese singer. All of which is mildly interesting, but what about the "drunk monks?"
Mephisto, Eduard von Grutzner
The Hunter,
Eduard von Grutzner

There's no indication as to how or why Grutzner came to paint the stereotypical beer-brewing, wine-making, over-imbibing friendly friars frolicking in free-flowing fruit of the vine. (The "why" probably involved the fact they sold well.) Likewise, there is very little in the way of chronology through which to trace backward the evolution of Grutzner's most popular content. (That's not unusual for relatively minor artists with high output, who market their work largely on their own.) Critics during his career ranked him as one of the three best genre painters in Munich along with Carl Spitzweg (easily his equal) and Franz von Defragged (who was definitely not).
Angoria behind the Scenes, 1870, Eduard von Grutzner
Falstaff, 1921, Edward von Grutzner
Not all of Grutzner's colorful clergy were drunk monks. There were some drunk Cardinals too. And not all the monks were drunk. Some weren't even drinking at all, but simply portraits. And just to be fair, he also painted some drunk parishioners as well. One has to wonder how familiar the artist may have been with his subjects' favorite beverages. Incidentally, Grutzner was one of Adolph Hitler's favorite artists, who found him "greatly underrated." Hitler's exact words were: "Believe me, this Gr├╝tzner will someday be worth as much as a Rembrandt. Rembrandt himself couldn't have painted that better." Grutzner died in 1925, so he can't be held responsible for the character of his admirers. And, as with so many other judgments, Hitler was simply wrong.

The Catastrophe, Eduard von Grutzner
The Catastrophe (detail)


  1. But after all, (and I realize looking at excellent images on an IPad distorts the reality of these genre paintings by making many of them look simply impossible) these portraits ate endlessly fascinating for their technique. The spilled wine is simple boggling. Now, did Grutzner use a camera?

  2. Thanks for reading my items and for your comment. Yes, I suppose my images do look different on an IPad. As for using a camera, Grutzner was born about the time inventors first discovered they could create a light-sensitive surface to capture an image using the old camera obscura, which had been around for centuries. So, it's highly unlikely the development of photography was far enough along to be of much help in capturing images of his "drunk monks." My guess is, his being an outstanding artists, the clergy (or stand-ins) were flattered to be portrayed and quite willing to pose for him as needed. That, of course, brings up the question as to how much he "needed" models in rendering his works, and that is largely unknowable.