Oswald Achenbach

Portrait of Oswald Achenbach by Ludwig des Coudres. (1847.)

In Dusseldorf, on February 2nd 1827, Christine Achenbach gave birth to her fifth child, her son Oswald. His father, Hermann, was a man-of-all-trades, a one-time manager of a metal factory, a beer brewer, an innkeeper and finally a bookkeeper. Oswald was destined, like his brother Andreas, who was almost twelve years older than him, to become one of the great nineteenth century German landscape artists and an important representative of the Dusseldorf School of Painting. Their painting style was so alike that they were often jokingly referred to them as the Alpha and Omega of landscape painting.

Fishermen with the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius beyond by Oswald Achenbach (1877)

When Oswald was still a young child the family moved to Munich where he attended primary school. During Oswald’s early childhood, the family moved to Munich where he attended primary school for a short period. In 1835, the family moved back to Dusseldorf and Oswald followed the artistic path of his brother and was enrolled in the elementary class of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Dusseldorf Art Academy). In fact, he should not have passed the entrance criteria for the school as its rules laid down a minimum entry age of twelve. However, he was given a place and remained there until 1841. There is no record of why the academy relaxed the age criteria but it could well have been that they recognised a budding artist who had probably received some artistic tuition from Andreas. All that is known about his six years at the academy is gleaned from his sketchbooks which were full of nature sketches from the area around the city.

Summer Landscape on the Banks of the Alban Lake by Oswald Achenbach

There is no certainty as to why Oswald left the Academy at the age of fourteen but it is thought that he was unhappy with the very demanding Academy teaching. It was not just the Dusseldorf Academy which had their rigid formal academic training, the same was happening in all the European Art Academies and all fought hard to maintain their formal approach. Where the Academies held the ‘whip hand’ was the fact that they organized the big art exhibitions, at which artists were primarily able to sell their work. Artists who dared oppose the Academic style were unable to have their works exhibited, which meant their opportunity to sell their paintings was curtailed. However, artists were not prepared to bow to such pressure and soon began to make their feelings known.

Via Appia with the Tomb of Caecilia by Oswald Achenbach

After leaving the Academy, Oswald Achenbach joined two associations: the Verein der Düsseldorfer Künstler zur gegenseitigen Unterstützung und Hilfe (association of Düsseldorf artists for their mutual support and aid) and like his brother, the Malkasten, which was founded on 11 August 1848 with Andreas Achenbach as one of the original signatories of the founding document. These Associations jointly staged plays, organized music evenings and staged exhibitions. At many of these events, Oswald took an active part, directing, playing or staging plays. He was a staunch supporter of the Malkasten and remained a member until the end of his life.

Venice, a view of the Piazzetta, with the Biblioteca Marciana, Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana, by Oswald Achenbach

In 1843, sixteen-year-old Oswald Achenbach began a prolonged journey of discovery which lasted several months. He travelled through Upper Bavaria and the North Tyrol of Austria, and arrived in Northern Italy, all the time sketching the landscapes he encountered. He returned to Italy on many occasions and Oswald is best remembered for his Italian landscape works. Despite Oswald’s dislike of how art was taught at the Dusseldorf Academy, the subject matter and the techniques he employed in his early landscape works were heavily influenced by the ideas being taught at the art academies of the time. Art historians confirm that the influence of Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, a tutor at the Dusseldorf Academy and Carl Rottman, the German landscape painter who completed many Italian landscape works, can be seen in Oswald Achenbach’s paintings. In Oswald Achenbach oil studies for his paintings during his Italian travels, he adhered very closely to the nature of the landscape and concentrated on the details of the typical Italian vegetation. In his early works, he showed less interest in architectural motifs and any figures in his depictions played a much smaller role than they would in his later, more mature work.

Evening by Oswald Achenbach (1854). Royal Collection, Windsor Palace.

Around 1847, Oswald received a commission to contribute some lithographs of his paintings, sketches, and other works for the satirical journals, Düsseldorf Monathefte and the Düsseldorf Monatsalbum. These journals were published by Heinrich Arnz, a well-known bookseller and printer who co-owned the Arnz & Co. with his brother Josef. Heinrich had a son, Albert, five years younger than Oswald. He was an artist who, like Oswald, studied at the Dusseldorf Academie and would often accompany him on some of his Italian trips. Heinrich Arnz also had a daughter, Julie, the same age as Oswald Achenbach and after a brief courtship the pair became engaged in 1848, and three years later, the couple married on May 3rd 1851. Between 1852 and 1857 the couple had four daughters, followed by a son in 1861. Their son, Benno von Achenbach, went on to become the founder of the carriage driving system named after him. In 1906 he became head of the Neuer Marstall in Berlin, which housed the Royal equerry, horses and carriages of Imperial Germany and in 1909, William II awarded him the hereditary nobility for his services to equestrian sport.

Not now having any connections with the Dusseldorf Academy, Oswald Achenbach had problems in trying to exhibit and sell his artwork. However, in 1850 he found an outlet in the form of the newly founded Düsseldorf gallery of Eduard Schulte. The gallery exhibited the works of artists who were independent of the Academy and as such, played an essential role in Achenbach’s early economic success. The Eduard Schulte gallery became one of the leading German galleries and later expanded, opening galleries in Berlin and Cologne.

Morning by Oswald Achenbach (1854). Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.

Whether by mutual consent or just fate but the two landscape painting brothers Oswald and Andreas seemed to choose different areas of Europe to depict in their paintings. The older brother Andreas although a large amount of his work was focused on seascapes and maritime depictions, he preferred his landscapes to focus upon the countryside of Northern Europe and Scandinavia, whereas Oswald preferred to produce depictions of Southern Europe, especially Italy.

Market Square in Amalfi by Oswald Achenbach (1876)

Oswald’s first major painting venture to Italy came in the summer of 1850. His companion for the adventure was Albert Flam, a German landscape painter, who had been taught by Andreas Achenbach and, like the Achenbach brothers, had been a student at the Dusseldorf Academy. They travelled to the French Cote d’Azur seaside town of Nice and then crossed over the Franco-Italian border to Genoa, the capital of the Italian region of Liguria and then they journeyed north to Rome. The pair went off on daily sketching expeditions to the Roman Campagna which was so popular with earlier landscape artists who were inspired by its beauty. Rome was a great place for artists to meet each other and during his stay in Rome Oswald met many including the Swiss Symbolist painter, Arnold Böcklin, Ludwig Thiersch, the German painter known for his mythological and religious subjects and especially his ecclesiastical art, and the landscape painter, Heinrich Dreber with whom he spent a long time in Olevano Romano, a commune which lies about 45 kilometres east of Rome. All artists tackle landscape painting differently and Ludwig Thiersch commented on how his friends differed. He said that Dreber drew elaborate pencil sketches, Böcklin simply let himself experience the environment and recorded relatively little in his sketchbook, while Achenbach and Flamm both painted oil studies outdoors. For Oswald Achenbach it was all about colour and achieving the correct tone by layering the paint. Form and the distribution of light and shadow was also very important to him, but less so was detailed topographical accuracy.

Study from Upper Italy, 1845, oil on paper mounted on cardboard. This study was made during Achenbach’s 1845 trip to Northern Italy.

By the start of the 1850’s, Achenbach’s paintings were well-known internationally. In 1852, aged 25, the Art Academy in Amsterdam had admitted him as a member. More fame came his way when several of his works were displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1855 in Paris, all of which were praised by the art critics and the public alike. In 1859, he received a gold medal at that year’s Salon Exhibition in Paris. In 1861 he was granted an honorary membership to the St Petersburg Academy and in 1862 he was bestowed membership of the Art Academy of Rotterdam.

The Evening Mood in Campagna by Oswald Achenbach (1850.)

Despite leaving the Academy due to his opposition to the Academy’s method of teaching art, in March 1863, Achenbach became the Professor for Landscape Painting at the Düsseldorf Academy. This was a great honour and it signified an elevation in his social standing as well as financial security. It would also look to be a volte-face to his earlier opposition but the reason for him accepting the post could have been due to the departure of the director of the academy, Friedrich Schadow, four years earlier and the fact there had been conciliation between the Academy and the independent artists.  The title, Knight of the Legion of Honour, was bestowed on Oswald by Napoleon III in 1863. Many more international honours followed. Oswald Achenbach continued to have his work exhibited at the Salon between 1863 and 1868

View of Florence by Oswald Achenbach (1898)

In the following years, Achenbach continued to make more trips and his last major trip was to Italy. It began in the early summer of 1882 and he visited Florence, Rome, Naples, and Sorrento. In 1884 and 1895 he took trips to Northern Italy. He had planned a trip in 1897 to Florence but cancelled it due to illness.

Oswald Achenbach died in Düsseldorf on February 1st 1905, one day before his 78th birthday. He was buried in the city’s North Cemetery.

Andreas Achenbach

 

Professor Andreas Achenbach on his 70th birthday by Heinrich von Angeli

When I looked at the life of the Hudson River School painter, James McDougal Hart, I talked about his time at the Dusseldorf Academy and how the Dusseldorf School of painting influenced him. The style of the Dusseldorf School of painting is characterised by its finely detailed, often overstated, and fanciful landscapes that more often than not have some kind of religious or symbolic stories depicted via these landscapes. The leading artists and members of the Dusseldorf style of painting reinforced the need for plein air painting, so that the artist could capture the true nature before returning to their studios and remaking more accurate visual conditions in their work.

Coastal landscape with city view by Anders Achenbach (1875)

The Dusseldorf School of painting principal period was one from 1826 to 1859 when German painter Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow was the school’s director. He had been professor at the prestigious Berlin Academy of the Arts, and in 1826 he was made director of the Düsseldorf Academy of the Arts, which he reoriented towards the production of Christian art. Twelve-years-old, Andreas Achenbach, is thought to have been one of von Schadow’s earliest pupils at the Dusseldorf Academy. Let me introduce you to this artist, the German landscape and seascape painter in the Romantic style.

Watermill in Westphalia, (1863) by Andreas Achenbach (1847), The Walters Art Museum

Andreas was born on September 29th, 1815 in the Northern Hesse town of Kassel, Germany. He was one of ten children born to Hermann Achenbach and Christine (née Zülch). His father Hermann was a merchant. In 1816 he took over the management of a metal factory in Mannheim. Two years later, in 1818, he moved his family to St. Petersburg, where the father wanted to set up a new venture, that of his own factory, the money for this project emanated from his wife’s “dowry”. Whilst in St Petersburg young Andreas received his first lessons in drawing in a girls’ school. He excelled and his teacher is said to have certified that six-year-old Andreas ‘could already do everything’. His father’s venture failed and, in 1823, he was forced to take his family back to Germany and settle down in the small Rhine Province town of Elberfeld. where family members of the father lived. Andreas’ father then began to earn a living, working as a beer and vinegar brewer and took ownership of an inn, The Black Wallfish, at Jägerhofstraße 34. It became a regular for visiting artists.

On February 2nd, 1827 Christine Achenbach gave birth to her fifth child, a son Oswald who would, in later years, become as greater an artist as his brother Andreas.

Die alte Akademie in Düsseldorf by Andreas Achenbach (1829)

Andreas began his formal academic training, in 1827, at the age of twelve, when he enrolled at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Wilhelm Schadow, Heinrich Christoph Kolbe and Carl Friedrich Schäffer. At an exhibition of the Kunstverein für der Rheinlande und Westfalen, which Schadow had co-founded, fourteen-year-old Andreas Achenbach achieved his first major success by being not only the youngest artist with a painting at the exhibition but also that one of his paintings, the painting Die alte Akademie in Düsseldorf, was sold. The setting of the painting was a view from a window in his parents’ apartment in the house Burgplatz 152. It was an unusual subject for Andreas to choose, considering what he had been taught at the Academy. The depiction is a simple restrained cityscape and such “reality” was deemed to be too banal and unartistic at the Academy, which under the leadership of Schadow was dominated by idealistic concepts. It is thought that this work resulted in Achenbach’s name being omitted from the Academy’s list of artists and not appearing until the winter term of 1830/1.

Große Marine mit Leuchtturm by Andreas Achenbach (1836)

In 1832 and 1833 he took an extended study trip with his father to Rotterdam, Scheveningen, Amsterdam and Riga. The journey of discovery gave him the ideal opportunity to study Dutch and Flemish landscape painting. The works of the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters Jacob Isaackszoon Ruisdael and Allaert van Everdingen were to particularly influence his art. Achenbach, as well as painting landscapes also painted seascapes, often depicting terrific storms and it is thought that the stories he heard from his family regarding their treacherous 1818 journey to St Petersburg remained in his mind for many years. His artistic breakthrough came at the 1836 General German Art Exhibition in Cologne at which his painting Großer Marine mit Lighthouse, was on show and up for sale. It was bought by the Prussian governor in the Rhine Province, Frederick of Prussia.

Storm on the sea at the Norwegian coast by Andreas Achenbach (1837) Städel Museum

Following his trips with his father, Andreas Achenbach made many painting trips on his own. In 1835 he made a major trip to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. And the following year he journeyed to the Bavarian Alps and the Austrian Tyrol. After his tour of Bavaria and the Tyrol, he left Dusseldorf and settled in Frankfurt and, thanks to the assistance of his friend, the German history painter, Alfred Rethel, he was able to open a studio at the Städelsche Kunstinstitut. Despite having his own studio in Frankfurt, Andreas continued with his periodic travels. He returned to Scandinavia in 1839 taking a painting tour of Norway.

Clearing Up—Coast of Sicily by Andreas Achenbach (1847), The Walters Art Museum

He also took more trips to Italy during the period from 1843 to 1845 when he stayed in the Campagna and spent time on the Isle of Capri. and often returned to Scandinavia, often accompanied by his artist brother, Oswald. Ostend was a popular destination for the two brothers.

Hildesheim by Andreas Achenbach (1875)

In 1846 Andreas returned to Dusseldorf and lived on the Flinger Steinweg, a then prosperous middle-class area of the city. He took over the running of his father’s brewery and inn. His father, despite being sixty-three, was glad to hand the business to his son so he could concentrate on being a freelance accountant. Andreas became a member of a number of artistic associations and was one of the founders of the newly formed Künstlerverein Malkasten (Artists’ Association Malkasten), often referred to as The Paint Box, which still exists today. He, together with other wealthy patrons, provided for the purchase of the former Estate of the Jacobi family in Pempelfort and its expansion as a permanent centre of the association, using considerable funds of his own. Andreas wholeheartedly immersed himself in Dusseldorf’s artistic life.

Maximilian Achenbach (Max Alvary)

In 1848 Andreas Achenbach married Marie Louise Hubertine Catharine Lichtschlag and the couple went on to have five children, three daughters, Lucia, Karoline, and Helena and two sons, Gregor, and Maximilian. Maximilian studied to be an architect at Aachen university and graduated in 1871. After working as an architect for a few years, and against the will of his father, he gave up his architectural career, married, and began his vocal studies in Milan and Frankfurt. He took his stage name, Max Alvary. so as not to offend his father and compromise his father’s business. Later Maximilian moved to Weimar and performed at the court opera, where he was very successful. He later appeared at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and Covent Garden Opera House in London.

Storm by Andreas Achenbach (1898)

In 1848 Achenbach was awarded the Belgian Order of Leopold. In 1853, he was made an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, In 1861 the Order of St. Stanislaus, and in 1862 the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. More honours followed and in 1878 he was awarded the Commander’s Cross 2nd Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olav. On 24 January 1881 he was admitted to the Prussian Order of Pour le Merite for Science and the Arts. In 1885 he became an honorary citizen of Düsseldorf, in whose northern cemetery he received an honorary grave, designed by the sculptor Karl Janssen.

Honorary grave of Andreas Achenbach with mourning angel of Karl Janssen, North Cemetery Düsseldorf

Andreas Achenbach died on April 1st 1910, aged 94. He was laid to rest in the Malkasten-Haus, where there was an opportunity to say goodbye to him for several days. The people of Düsseldorf queued to pay their last respects. The funeral procession moved off from the Paint Box heading to Achenbach’s final resting place at Dusseldorf’s North Cemetery and it was commented in the local media that it was akin to a state funeral of a prince.

In my next blog I will look at the life and works of Andreas’ brother, Oswald Achenbach.