Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller
Biography of Austrian 19th Century Biedermeier Painter.

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Corpus Christi morning (1857)
Belvedere Palace Museum, Vienna.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller (1793-1865)


Early Life
Professorship and Portraits
Landscape Paintings
German/Austrian Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism

For an idea of the pigments
used by Waldmuller, see:
Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

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Best Artists of All Time.

For the best works, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.

See: Art: Definition and Meaning.


One of the leading Austrian Biedermeier painters of the 19th century, Waldmuller embodied the style of Realism peculiar to the middle class Biedermeier idiom. Although noted for his portrait art as well as his genre painting and still lifes, he is best remembered for his landscape painting, whose detailed naturalism perfectly illustrates the principle that close attention to nature is the foundation of realist painting. See, for instance, his Old Elms in Prater (1831, Kunsthalle, Hamburg). In 1829 Waldmuller was appointed Professor of Painting at the Vienna Academy, one of the best art schools in Austria, but found it difficult to agree with its rather old-fashioned methods of teaching. Later, he wrote several treatises on fine art painting, outlining his more progressive approach to art education.


Early Life

Born in Vienna, Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller studied for a brief period at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, before the need to earn a living forced him to focus on teaching, portraiture and various types of commercial applied art. Thus after a spell as an art teacher for the children of Count Gyulay in Croatia, he began his artistic career by focusing on miniature painting and the design of theatre sets in Brun and Prague.


He returned to Vienna in 1815, following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. It was at this point that Austria entered a period of tighter government control and censorship, causing artists to avoid sensitive social or political topics and concentrate on domestic subjects. This in turn led to the flowering of the Biedermeier style. This Biedermeier idiom, allied to the growth of an affluent middle class, led to a significant increase in demand for family portrait art, domestic genre painting and landscapes that rediscovered the folkish beauty of Austria. The twenty-two year old Waldmuller set about trying to satisfy this demand as best he could, specializing to begin with in portraiture. In 1823, among numerous other works, he painted a portrait of the Austrian composer Ludwig van Beethoven.



Professorship and Portraits

During the 1820s Waldmuller travelled widely around Germany and Italy (in Rome he encountered members of the Nazarenes), during which time he developed a growing interest in landscape painting. In 1829 he took up a Professorship at the Viennese Academy, a post he did not hold for very long, due to a series of problems he had with the authorities, notably, his hostility towards Academic art, from which his painting would depart in search of Realism, especially in landscapes. (For more, see also: Vienna Secession.) His numerous, eminent portraits, still bearing a classical stamp, have great psychological depth and brought him considerable fame. Examples of these include his Self-Portrait from 1828, and his Portrait of Count Razumovsky (1830, Razumovsky Collection), Russian Ambassador to Vienna. His Biedermeier-style portraits - including The Family of Councilor Ritter von Neuhaus (1827, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and The Eltz Family (1835, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) - were also held in high regard.

Landscape Paintings

Waldemuller's greatest works, however, were his landscapes, both of the city of Vienna and of its hinterland, which demonstrate his sense of detail and light in which he specialized, often depicting full sunlight, which along with his strong colours, sometimes gives his paintings a certain harshness. He felt the only model for painting was nature, which he captured with a naturalistic and detailed style. He often included merry groups of children and young people in his compositions. Note however, that in his enthusiasm for the native beauty and peasant folk art of his region, his paintings sometimes idealized the back-breaking rural life of its inhabitants.

From 1830, the light and colours in his paintings became more Impressionistic, and he began using the new technique of plein air painting, in such works as The Schonberg Seen from Hoisernradalpe (1833, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), Early Spring in the Vienna Woods (1864, Nationalgalerie, Berlin). He also practised still life painting in the manner of German Baroque art, and genre scenes in which he illustrated the principles of lower-middle class morality.


An important influence on Austrian and German Art of the 19th Century, Waldmuller is considered one of the most important representatives of the Viennese Biedermeier style, partly due to his sympathetic portrait paintings, partly because of his naturalistic landscapes which captured the native beauty of the Vienna region, and partly due to his endearing genre paintings of domestic scenes. He was also one of the best miniaturists in Austria. Lesser Austrian Biedermeier painters included Friedrich von Amerling (1803-87), Johann Baptist Reiter (1813-90), Peter Fendi (1796-1842), Josip Tominz (1790-1866), Friedrich Gauermann (1807-62), Michael Neder (1807-82), and Josef Danhauser (1805-45).


Paintings by the Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller are held in several of the world's best art museums, notably in Austria and Germany. Here is a short selection:

- The Family of Councilor Ritter von Neuhaus (1827) K.M. Museum, Vienna.
- Portrait of Count Razumovsky (1830) Razumovsky Collection, Vienna.
- Old Elms in Prater (1831) Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
- Children (1834) Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
- The Eltz Family (1835) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
- Young Peasant Woman & 3 Children at the Window (1840) Neue Pinakothek.
- The Birthday Table (1840) Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.
- Bouquet in an Attic Bell Crater (1840) Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
- Children at the Window (1853) Residenzgalerie, Salzburg.
- The Grandmother's Birthday (1856) Royal Collection, Windsor.
- Corpus Christi Morning (1857) Belvedere Palace Museum, Vienna.
- The Soup Kitchen (1859) Osterreichsche Galerie, Vienna.
- A Journey Refused (1865) Akademie der bildenden Kunste, Vienna.

German/Austrian Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism

In both Germany and Austria, the dominant early 19th century movement was Romanticism, whose attributes found their way into the works of Realist artists such as Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) and Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900). Realism in turn influenced the style of German Impressionism, embodied by Max Liebermann (1847-1935), Max Slevogt (1868-1932), as well as Lovis Corinth (1858-1925).

• For biographies of other 19th century Austrian artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of portraiture and landscape painting in Austria, see: Homepage.

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