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Anton Burger

Blick in die Frankfurter Judengasse (View of the Judengasse in Frankfurt)

Oil on canvas

Signed at bottom right: A. Burger

The plasterer’s son Anton Burger was born and raised in the old town of Frankfurt and as an artist devoted himself to depictions of its medieval streets and houses early on in his career. This is borne out by the studies of his that have survived from his early days as a student of Jakob Becker and Philipp Veit1 at the Städelsche Kunstinstitut.2
Burger was especially assiduous in his renditions of Frankfurt’s Judengasse, which he first captured in a painting of 18613 and selected as his subject on many more occasions right up to 1883. The building on the right jutting out into the lane allows us to pinpoint the exact vantage point from which Burger painted this scene. It must have been house No. 48, also called “Fröhlicher Mann” (“The Happy Man”), in which the Feist family ran a wine shop.4 Instead of showing the narrow Judengasse teeming with people going about their business, Burger opted for a calmer scene in which the influence of Becker’s genre painting is clearly apparent. So earthy and homogeneous is his palette that the individual hues are subsumed in the brownish-golden glow of an old master, making for a harmonious image of a cosy and quaint-looking neighbourhood.5 As in Burger’s other views of the old town of Frankfurt, his paintings of the Judengasse reveal nothing of the drastic social changes and transformation of urban space that the nineteenth century brought with it. After 1824, when Jews were at last granted equality before the law and with it the right to choose where they lived, many of them left the ghetto and moved to other parts of town. The buildings in the Jewish quarter that they left behind, many of them in a ruinous condition, thereafter became an affordable place to live for the city’s poorest residents. The houses on the left-hand side of the painting were largely torn down as part of an urban development project in 1863, as was house No. 48 two years later.6 Just as the English novelist George Eliot can be said to have erected a somewhat romanticized literary monument to Frankfurt’s Judengasse in her novel Daniel Deronda,7 first published in 1876, so Anton Burger presents a deeply nostalgic, historicist view of it in his paintings. The documentary value of Burger’s paintings should not be underestimated, however, and they can also be appreciated alongside the works of his contemporaries Carl Theodor Reiffenstein and Eugen Peipers,8 who shared his desire to memorialize the old town of Frankfurt and preserve it for future generations in their works of art.

  1. Jakob Becker (1810 Dittelsheim – 1872 Frankfurt a. M.) and Philipp Veit (1793 Berlin – 1877 Mainz).

  2. Anton Burger 1824–1905. Zum 180. Geburtstag, exh. cat. Museum Giersch, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, p. 29.

  3. Anton-Burger, Judengasse 1861, oil on canvas, 97 x 81.5 cm, signed and dated at bottom right: “A. Burger 61.” The fact that the painting was sold to a buyer in London in 1862 enables us to gauge the international success that Burger had with this theme. The painting now belongs to the Museum Georg Schäfer in Schweinfurt, Inv. No. 3364.

  4. Dietz, Alexander, Stammbuch der Frankfurter Juden, Frankfurt a. M. 1907, p. 462.

  5. Anton Burger 1824–1905. Zum 180. Geburtstag, exh. cat. Museum Giersch, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, p. 31.

  6. Ibid. p. 37.

  7. Mary Ann Evans (1819 Nuneaton – 1880 London), better known by her pen name George Eliot, ranks among the greatest novelists of the Victorian era. In Daniel Deronda she has the eponymous protagonist travel to Frankfurt am Main. George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Oxford 1988, p. 307.

  8. Carl Theodor Reiffenstein (1820 Frankfurt a. M. – 1893 Frankfurt a.M.) and Friedrich Eugen Peipers (1805 Stolberg ¬ 1885 Frankfurt a. M.)

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