The Germans of this age were quite equal to the French and Italians in art. They took baroque from Italy and rococo from France, but they gave Winckelmann and Mengs to Italy, and their expatriates David Roentgen, “Jean” Riesener, and Adam Weisweiler were preferred to French cabinetmakers by French kings and queens; so Louis XVI paid eighty thousand livres for a secrétaire by Roentgen.94 The Residenz at Munich, Frederick’s Neues Palais at Potsdam, and the homes of well-to-do Germans were crowded with massive furniture elaborately carved, until, at the end of this age, a lighter style came in from England’s Chippendale and Sheraton.—The Meissen factories had been injured in the war, but Nymphenburg, Ludwigs-burg, Potsdam, and other centers carried on the arts of porcelain and faïence. German shelves, mantels, tables, and desks smiled with jolly, graceful dancing, singing, kissing figurines.
On a larger scale there was admirable statuary. Martin Klauer made a bust of Goethe in the early Weimar days—eager, bright-eyed, confident.95 Martin’s son Ludwig did not do so well with Schiller;96 better is the Schiller now in a square at Stuttgart, by Johann von Dannecker. Supreme in German sculpture in this age was Johann Gottfried Schadow, who became court sculptor at Berlin in 1788. In 1791 he made a head of Frederick; in 1793 he carved him in full length; in 1816 he cast in bronze a smaller Frederick97—anunforgettable masterpiece. He cast the bronze Quadriga of Victory for the Brandenburg Gate, and achieved an almost classical loveliness in the marble group of Crown Princess Luise and her sister Friederike.
Germany had so many painters that she could afford to surrender a dozen of them to Italy and still have good ones left. Tischbeins were so numerous in the brotherhood of the brush that we can confuse them with ease. Johann Heinrich Tischbein, painter to the court of Hesse-Cassel, made a fine portrait of Lessing. His nephew Johann Friedrich Tischbein painted in Cassel, Rome, Naples, Paris, Vienna, The Hague, Dessau, Leipzig, and St. Petersburg, and made a charming group of the children of Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar. Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein lived in Italy 1787-99, painted a famous picture, Goethe in the Roman Campagna, and returned to be court painter to the Duke of Oldenburg.
One source of the German Drang nach Italien was Adam Friedrich Oeser, sculptor, painter, etcher, teacher, champion of art reform on classic lines; Winckelmann lived with him for a time in Dresden, criticized his drawing, admired his character, and said, “He knows as much as one can know outside of Italy.”98 In 1764 Oeser was made director of the art academy at Leipzig; Goethe visited him there, and caught the Italian fever.
Of those artists who remained in Germany Daniel Chodowiecki led the list, and he was a Pole. Born in Danzig, left an orphan, he learned to support himself by drawings, engravings, and paintings. In 1743 he moved to Berlin, and became German in all but name. He told the life of Christ in superb miniatures which gave him a national reputation; then, in a more Voltairean mood, he painted Jean Calas and His Family. His drawings were in such demand that for years hardly any major work of literature was published in Prussia without illustrations from his hand. In the finest of his etchings he sketched his own household: himself at work, his wife proudly surveying her five children, the walls covered with art. With a red crayon he drew the figure of Lotte Kestner, whom Goethe loved and lost. In his work there is a grace of line and a tenderness of feeling that distinguish him from Hogarth, to whom he was often compared because of his many pictures of common life; but he rightly deprecated such a correlation. Often he was inspired by Watteau; A Gathering in the Zoological Garden99 has Watteau’s flair for the open air and the entrancing swirl of feminine robes.
Anton Graff left a portrait of Chodowiecki100—all smiles and curls and avoirdupois—and a portrait of himself101 looking up from his work but dressed as for a ball. He put more spirit into his lovely portrait of his wife,102 caught the pride of the actress Korona Schröter,103 and glorified with golden raiment the overflowing form of Frau Hofrat Böhme.104
Last of the line in this half century was Asmus Jakob Carstens; who absorbed Winckelmann’s gospel in letter and spirit, and completed the classic revival in German painting. Born in Schleswig, schooled in Copenhagen and Italy, he worked chiefly in Lübeck and Berlin; but he went back to Italy in 1792, and feasted on the remains of ancient sculpture and architecture. He did not know that time had washed away the color from Greek art, leaving only line; so, like Mengs, he reduced his brush to a pencil, and aimed only at perfect form. He was disturbed by the physical imperfections of the models who posed in the studios; he decided to trust to his imagination; and he delighted in picturing Greek gods, and scenes from Greek mythology, as he and Winckelmann conceived them. From these he passed to illustrating Dante and Shakespeare. Always his passion for line and form missed color and life; and even when he achieved an almost Michelangelesque vision of godlike figures, as in The Birth of Light,105 we can only praise him for remembering the Sistine Chapel’s paintings as accurately as Mozart remembered its music. Rome returned his affection, and gave his work (1795) one of the most extensive and celebrated exhibitions that any modern artist had ever received. There, three years later, he died, still only forty-four years old. Art, like sex, can be a consuming fire.
The neoclassic mood dominated the architectural embellishment of Potsdam and Berlin under Frederick the Great. He had begun the Neues Palais in 1755; he did not let the war deter him from the project. Three architects—Büring, Gontard, and Manger—shared in designing it; they mingled classic with baroque in an imposing edifice that recalled the palaces of ancient Rome; and in the interior decoration they rivaled the finest specimens of French rococo. The Französische Kirche, or French Church, in Berlin had a classic portico; Gontard and his pupil Georg Unger added a classic tower (1780-85). Unger augmented the majesty of Berlin with a Königliche Bibliothek, or Royal Library, in 1774-80. The Brandenburger Tor, or Brandenburg Gate, raised by Karl Langhans in 1788-91, was frankly modeled on the Propylaea of the Acropolis; it barely survived the Second World War, but lost the famous Quadriga, the four-horse chariot with which Schadow had crowned it.
Other German cities were minting monuments to house princes, nobles, and cadavers. Frederick’s sister Wilhelmine beautified Bayreuth with a palace of charming rococo (1744-73). At Cassel Simon-Louis du Ry designed (1769 f.) the sumptuous dance hall and Blue Room in the Schloss of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. On the Rhine near Düsseldorf Nikolaus von Pigage built the lordly Schloss Benrath (1755-69); and near Ludwigsburg Philippe de La Guépière raised the pretty Palace of Monrepos (1762-64).