|Summer Exhibition at the Belvedere Focuses on Josef Danhauser's Pictorial Narratives|
Josef Danhauser, The Novel Reading I, 1841. Oil on wood, 63 x 78,8 cm. Belvedere, Vienna / Loan of permanent collection © Belvedere, Vienna.
VIENNA.- During his lifetime, Josef Danhauser (18051845) was one of the most important artists in Vienna, and his name is inseparably linked with the epoch known today as the Biedermeier era. The summer exhibition at the Orangery presents the artist as a storyteller. His paintings grant a revealing glimpse into the life and thought of his time.
Trained at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts to be a history painter, Danhauser soon overcame the academic traditionalism to enrich his historical and religious topics with genre elements. What distinguished him most was his extraordinary ability to translate literary texts into pictorial language. Gestures, facial expressions, and telling movements are the vehicle of his pictorial narratives; and behind it all lie a daring use of satire and acute powers of observation. Inspired by the series of engravings by the English painter William Hogarth (16971764) and the Vienna street scenes of Josef Lanzedelli the Elder (1772-1831) and Georg Emanuel Opiz (1775-1841), he developed his own unique narrative style. Danhauser enhanced his works with a multitude of informative and explanatory details, made historical and literary allusions, and combined them all to weave a thick narrative tapestry. His painted narratives are striking illustrations of living conditions in Vienna of the early nineteenth century. Works like The Game of Chess convey an idea of the popular salons of the day, with the décor reflecting the taste of the period. Danhauser often integrated into his works the latest creations from the Danhauser furniture factory, which he jointly ran with his brother Franz. In these works, however, the depiction of the ambience only sets a decorative framework; paramount are the characters and actions of those portrayed.
In Danhausers uvre genre scenes with a moralising subject play an important role, for example in The Rich Spendthrift, The Soup for the Poor, The Widows Penny, and The Reading of the Will. Criticism of the government, which was prevented by censorship, was replaced by criticism of his fellow man. In addition, Danhauser spent his entire life in examining the artists profession, and numerous studio scenes reflect his existence as an artist.
In the summer of 2010, with the support of the Dorotheum, the Institute for the Compilation of Oeuvre Catalogues was established at the Belvederes Research Centre in order to provide a strong impetus for advancing a scholarly research and review of Austrian artists and their works. The Director of the Belvedere, Agnes Husslein-Arco, is gratified to be able to present with the publication at hand the first comprehensive art historical assessment of Josef Danhausers complete work, which launches the series Belvedere Werkverzeichnisse [Belvedere Oeuvre Catalogues]. Besides a monograph on the life and work of the artist, this catalogue raisonné includes over 500 paintings, some of which have never before been published.
Catalogues of the works of Marc Adrian, Carry Hauser, Hans Makart, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Martin van Meytens, Koloman Moser, Otto Rudolf Schatz, and Curt Stenvert are currently being compiled at the Belvedere, with further publications on Friedrich von Amerling, Tina Blau, Jean Egger, and Gerhart Frankl planned.
Themes of the Exhibition
Social Criticism and Reportage
Danhauser was always extremely interested in people. And he was witty enough to convey his observations in a humorous way. Early on in his career he captured the vanities of his contemporaries in the series Embarrassing situations. He also documented the boisterous behavior of spectators in Giraffe in the Zoo. These works were influenced by a series of lithographs showing scenes from the daily lives of artisans and laborers in Vienna by Georg Emanuel Opiz and Josef Lanzedelli the Elder. Yet Danhauser did not content himself with merely depicting situations but enriched them with anecdote. Occasionally he responded to current events: for instance in 1831 when a new card was introduced known as an Enthebungskarte (literally a release card). People could use these to prevent unwanted calls from needy Well-Wishers asking for gifts at New Year. A late example of his criticism of society is the Newspaper Readers, depicting two wagoners who have just read that the railways developments will soon deprive them of work.
The Many Sides of Being Human
Danhauser soon realized that it was not enough to just capture a situation in a picture. To make contemporaries aware of their inconsiderate behavior and the consequences of heartless actions he needed to show these in plainer terms: A mirror had to be held up to people, presenting them with a clear picture of their deeds. So the painter created didactic images juxtaposing two contrasting ways of behaving. The Rich Glutton and The Widows Penny demonstrate that he drew some of his ideas from the scriptures. Literary texts provided other sources of inspiration. The two versions of Reading the Will are based on the novel Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer by Sir Walter Scott, and the painting Wine, Women and Song echoes the saying: He who loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long.
William Hogarth and Josef Danhauser
Danhausers connection with the English painter William Hogarth was already recognized by contemporaries and a number of newspaper articles highlighted this with approval. Just like Hogarth, Danhauser was depicting the fates of individuals to draw attention to the moral decline in his day. Hogarths influence is also apparent in the way Danhauser examined peoples characters, using exaggerated expressions and gestures to convey his protagonists depravity. In this way he could attack superficiality and hypocrisy and at the same time create a moralizing image of customs at the time. Yet for all his descriptive clarity, Danhauser never attained the same penetrating observation as Hogarth, his figures tending to be typecast into positive and negative characters.
Religion and History
Danhauser was trained as a history painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. This gave him a solid grounding in translating literary texts into images. As already shown, he applied these methods not only to history subjects but also used them to give his genre paintings greater expressive force. On the other hand, he also approached his history paintings like genre scenes. His protagonists tears in Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael spell out the emotional side of his subject.
This psychological penetration also characterizes the three pictures showing a woman by the sea. In these works the sea enhances the subject matter: symbolically emphasizing the womans psychological state in the Woman from the Sea, tragically depriving the Fishermans Wife of family life and threatening the lives of the Shipwrecked.
Poets Love, or: Transforming a Story into a Picture
The whereabouts of the painting Poets Love is unknown and we can only gain an impression of the work from a contemporary engraving. This and the five preliminary studies displayed were chosen as an example to represent how the painters pictures evolved. The original idea was inspired by Dantes Divine Comedy (Inferno, V, 73142), and the forbidden love between Francesca da Polenta and her brother-in-law Paolo, revenged by her husband Gianciotto Malatesta who murdered the lovers. In later sketches the protagonists are dressed in Renaissance rather than medieval-style clothing. The man wearing a laurel wreath and his writing pose recall Torquato Tasso, who was crowned with laurels by Leonora dEste. Danhauser skirted around this historical inconsistency in the finished painting by adding the following explanation: Picture from life in sixteenth-century Italy.
The Influence of Hogarth's The Rakes Progress
The series of engravings by the English painter William Hogarth became well known in the German-speaking world after Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs detailed descriptions were published in the Göttinger Taschen-Calender between 1784 and 1796. What appealed to Danhauser about Hogarth was his great interest in realism, the pictures within the picture that add commentary to the subject matter, and his seemingly effortless ability to sum up the essence of the scene. Even as a young artist, Danhauser tried to include these elements in his works. This is demonstrated particularly by his studio scenes like The Scholars Room and Comical Scene in the Studio that have a succinct and humorous message.
The Artist in His Studio
Danhauser was interested in his profession as such all through his life. He never depicted himself, however, but gave others the roles in the stories he wished to tell. His subject is always the conflict between the artists illusory world and reality, which invades from the outside. Danhauser most liked to juxtapose the painters daily life with the instinctual behavior of animals. When he considered his pictures unjustly criticized by journalists he painted his studio once again, only this time with a group of dogs tearing up drawings in his Canine Comedy.
By contrast, the Novel Reading shows one of the more private times in a painters daily life: the creative phase of finding a subject. This painting also shows an interesting coexistence of the painters art world with its worthless paraphernalia and another artificial illusory world, namely the world of the bourgeoisie.
Danhauser, as artistic director of the Danhauser furniture factory, moved in noble and upperclass circles. His designs shaped the tastes in furnishings of the time. As a result, the interiors in his pictures can be seen as authentic documents of the day, as he naturally included his own furniture designs.
The Game of Chess is particularly important in this context, as it is the very earliest depiction of a salon in nineteenth-century European painting. The story it represents also deserves a mention: a woman winning a game that is dominated by the queen. In this and other scenes the artist conveys an impression of social gatherings, the contemporary love of music, but also overindulgence and excess.
Late Genre Pictures
During a short trip to Germany, Holland and Belgium in the summer of 1842, Danhauser came into contact with seventeenth-century painting from this region. The artist subsequently walked around Viennas suburbs capturing scenes with ordinary people that reflect the tranquility of day-to-day life. An atmospheric mood dominates in these images, in contrast to his early genre scenes. Narrative is a secondary concern; the subject should have an effect in its own right. In the last years of his life Danhauser became very interested in his own children as a subject. Their innocent games inspired many pictures, which were so popular that he often painted several versions, as the example of The Child and his World demonstrates.
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