A large part of what makes Ferdinand Brütt’s oeuvre so special is undoubtedly his humorous, and at times ironic, view of the late nineteenth-century urban bourgeoisie and his depiction of typically Wilhelminian characters. Only in two of his works does the painter address the phenomena that we tend to associate with the Wilhelminian era – the busyness, the chronic lack of time, and the upper middle classes’ impatient consumption of the great works of art housed in museums.1
This charcoal drawing served Brütt as a study for those two works, the more modern of the two is likewise in our possession.2 The whereabouts of the other painting, In der Bildergalerie (In the Picture Gallery) (also called Galeriebesucher or Gallery Visitors)3 is currently unknown, though the Kunstverlag Franz Hanfstaengl possesses a contemporary reproduction of it. The focus of Brütt’s study are the sketchily drawn figure types that he will take up again in the oil paintings. Thus the painter on the podium along with the seated female copyist, the man immersed in the museum guide, who like his wife and daughter can barely be told apart from the throng of visitors, and the elderly gentleman in the foreground all turn up again in our painting. There, however, the woman artist is standing, the bourgeois family is no longer reading but instead is watching the copyist at work, and the elderly gentleman is shown without his opera glasses. Brütt also borrowed the man busy reading alongside his wife and the figure with the opera glasses gazing straight at the viewer for the now lost painting In the Picture Gallery (or Gallery Visitors). The focus of these works is on the bourgeois museum visitors, who seem to be more interested in what the copyists are doing than in the original works of art. The study includes the paintings on display only indirectly, either through the work of the copyists, as the object being viewed through the opera glasses, or as the content of the museum guide. It is not great art itself, but rather the behaviour of the Wilhelminian haute bourgeoisie as public consumers of art that is most of interest here. The elderly gentleman in the foreground can thus be read as the very epitome of the clueless gallery visitor, struggling to get to grips with the great tour de forces of art history. When he turns up again in our oil painting, however, it will be without opera glasses and with his hand pressed to his head as if to underscore how emotionally and intellectually overwhelming the experience of art is.
Special thanks to Mr. Alexander Bastek for his support.
Ferdinand Brütt 1849–1936. Erzählungen und Impressionen, exh. cat. Museum Giersch Frankfurt am Main 2007, Petersberg 2007, pp. 23, 36.↩
Ferdinand Brütt, In der Bildergalerie, 1889, oil on canvas, 67 x 80 cm, see exh. cat. Ferdinand Brütt 1849–1936, p. 36 fig. 23, WVZ No. 1889. 1a.↩
Ferdinand Brütt, In der Bildergalerie (also Galeriebesucher), 1889, oil on canvas, dimensions unknown, whereabouts unknown, see exh. cat. Ferdinand Brütt 1849–1936, p. 75 fig. 40, WVZ No. 1889.1.↩