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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Friedrich Gauermann

At the Monastery Fountain, 1836, Friedrich Gauermann--gorgeous
Friedrich Gauermann in Rural
Costume, 1837, (self-portrait)
Notwithstanding the American Rockies (where we shall be about the time you read this), some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world can be found in the Austrian Alps. Rugged doesn't begin to describe it. Nor do words like picturesque, magnificent, spectacular, awesome, exquisite, exhilarating, thrilling, or any of a dozen other adjectives which come quickly to mind in viewing the work of the Austrian painter, Friedrich Gauermann. Gauermann lived from 1807 to 1862 during what's come to be called the Biedermeier Period, dating from the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 to the so-called European Revolution of 1848. In other words, it was a period of relative peace across Europe. And as any art historian will tell you, when peace happens, so does art. Moreover, this period also marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the subsequent rise of a prosperous middle class, and with all this a period of economic growth like none Europe had ever seen before. It didn't last, but then such things seldom do.
Sheltering from the Storm, 1829, Friedrich Gauermann
Jacob Gauermann, Father and Teacher
of Carl and Friedrich Gauermann, 1811
Friedrich Gauermann's father was Jacob Gauermann (left), a skilled artist, engraver, and stone mason who had two sons. Both he intended to become farmers. When the boys resisted, he trained them to be artists instead. (Friedrich's older brother, Carl, died in 1829 at the age of twenty-five.) When you live amongst the Austrian Alps and you have a father like Jacob Gauermann, who needs art schools? During the long Austrian winters, Friedrich received art instruction. During the summer, Friedrich and his father traveled about the country drawing and painting. By 1824 Friedrich was exhibiting in Vienna and starting to receive commissions from Austrian royalty, the statesman, Prince Klemens von Metternich, as well as high officials in the French government. In 1829, Gauermann's painting, Sheltering from the Storm (above) gained wide acclaim as did another painting titled Field Labourer in 1834, possibly the painting now titled Peasant with a Pipe (below, right).

Alpine Hut in Rainy Weather, 1850, Friedrich Gauermann
Peasant with a Pipe, 1835,
Friedrich Gauermann

Austria and the Alpine area of Europe has long been known for its outstanding landscape painters. What made Gauermann's work stand apart from the rest was the fact such stunning mountain vistas served also as settings for the animal life of the region, both wild and domestic. 
Cattle and Sheep in Water, 1859,
Friedrich Gauermann

Moreover Gauermann wasn't limited by just the native animal life, he could also handle human life with similar ease as demonstrated in his, At the Monastery Fountain (top) from 1836. Often though, one has the feeling that his human figures are somewhat overwhelmed by the mountains and the wildlife. It's only when he paints them among their livestock inside winter shelters as seen in his Idyll in the Stalls (below) that they begin to take on at least equal importance to his sheep, goats and cows. As his Cattle and Sheep in Water (above, left) dating from 1859 indicates, Gauermann was, by far, the best cow painter in Austria.

Idyll in the Stalls, 1846, Friedrich Gauermann--the animals and those who tended them.
Bull Fight with a Bear, 1834,
Friedrich Gauermann
The Austrian Alps in the mid-19th century was a wild and dangerous place. Cow painter or not, Gauermann is at his best depicting the predators (mostly bears) as they fought (and often lost) to other mountain inhabitants in their struggle to survive. His Bull Fight with a Bear (left) would seem to suggest that the bear has met its match. Though such violent encounters are among Gauermann's most exciting words (many of his wealthy clients were avid hunters) his love and respect for the mountains and its wildlife are no better exemplified in his magnificent White Deer and Hind in Alpine Landscape (bottom) from 1833. Whereas often Gauermann's animals struggle to compete with the rugged majesty of his mountain landscapes (and like the bear, often lose), here there can be no doubt as to the dominance of Gauermann's "royal court" amid the grandeur of their Alpine kingdom.

White Deer and Hind in Alpine Landscape, 1833, Friedrich Gauermann.


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