Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Can I Have Never Seen You?"

Another important 19th-Century German realist painter virtually unknown in the United States is Leopold Karl Walter Von Kalckreuth (1855-1928), who by inheritance was entitled to use the title “Graf” (“Count”).

Kalckreuth’s works, known for their deep melancholy and the artist’s exquisite capturing of North Germany’s subtle and somber light, unique in all the world, have been attracting attention in Europe in recent years.

This is because several Kalckreuth canvases have been the subjects of highly-publicized ownership disputes, such disputes arising from The Third Reich’s practice of forcing Jewish owners of art to sell their holdings at artificially-low prices (when such artworks were not outright confiscated by the state).

I have never been disappointed in a Kalckreuth painting. Every Kalckreuth canvas I have had the pleasure to view has been a work of the finest quality.

When we visited the Hamburg Kunsthalle in November 2006, four Kalckreuth paintings were on display. Alas, the near-legendary “The Twilight Hour”, owned by the Kunsthalle, was not among the four—and this disappointed us greatly, as “The Twilight Hour” was on our list of essential Kunsthalle German paintings we had most wanted to study in person.

The four Kalckreuth paintings that were on display were all well-known, as Hamburg possesses the world’s most important cache of Kalckreuth artworks.

Prominent among the four was the famous portrait, “Wolf, The Son Of The Artist”.

“Wolf, The Son Of The Artist” was painted in 1900, when Wolf was thirteen years old.

The painting is charming and disturbing in equal measure, a gripping portrayal of a child on the cusp of abandoning the cocoon of childhood and embracing the responsibilities and realities of adulthood. The boy is revealed as intelligent and civilized—and introverted and melancholy. The painting serves as a frightening precursor of the son’s suicide six years later.

Wolf Kalckreuth was a precocious poet, whose works had already been published at the time of his death at the age of nineteen. He was a close personal friend of Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote his celebrated poem, “Requiem For Wolf Kalckreuth”, shortly after the young man’s death. During his short life, Wolf made a profound impression on everyone who knew him.

Anton Webern was studying “Requiem For Wolf Kalckreuth” on the afternoon of his death.

Might the text have provided inspiration for a “Cantata No. 3” from the pen of the great composer?

The world shall never know.


Leopold Kalckreuth (1855-1928)
Wolf, The Son Of The Artist
Hamburg Kunsthalle

Oil On Canvas
46 Inches By 36 Inches


A preparatory drawing for the above painting is part of a temporary exhibition of German works on paper, all from a private collection, currently on display at The National Gallery Of Art in Washington.

I note that the drawing was even mentioned in a recent article in The Washington Post. It is gratifying to see 19th-Century German art, which was supremely accomplished, at last receiving some attention in North America.

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