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Wilhelm Trübner

* 1851 – † 1917

Self-Portrait Facing Right, 1876

Oil on canvas

Signed at top right (in red): W. Trübner Verso: adhesive lable with No. 2489

The young and self-confident-looking Wilhelm Trübner portrayed here against a uniformly black ground looks back at us with a remarkably bright and alert gaze, his right eyebrow slightly raised. The work is painted in the style of the old masters, as was typical of the circle of Wilhelm Leibl,1 with which Trübner came into contact through his friendship with Albert Lang[Albert Lang (1847 Karlsruhe –1933 Munich).] and Carl Schuch[Carl Schuch (1846 Vienna – 1903 Vienna).] in the early 1870s. He had enrolled at the Munich art academy in the spring of 1869 and in the summer of that year had attended the first International Art Exhibition at the Glaspalast in Munich,2 where the lavish offering of contemporary German and French art moved him to describe it as “the best of all the exhibitions of this kind to be held there.”3 He was especially struck by the works of Hans Canon4 and Wilhelm Leibl. Hoping that the former would help further his career as a portraitist, Trübner left Munich to take lessons from Canon himself at his studio in Stuttgart. To judge by his account of this episode in his memoirs, he was not disappointed: “Here I received private lessons in drawing and painting such as only a master of the first order can give,”5 he wrote, adding: “He knew the old masters as did no other […] The heads, which is what I intended to learn from him, were always painted from nature with absolute mastery and a rare degree of accomplishment.”6 The affinity between Canon’s own portrait of the young Trübner clad in historical garb with a wide lace collar and red beret7 and our self-portrait, is apparent in both the right-facing pose and the choice of view. Another enduring influence on Trübner’s portraiture was Wilhelm Leibl, who was especially impressed by the portraits of the great Dutch and Flemish masters Frans Hals, Anthony van Dyck, and Peter Paul Rubens that he had studied at an old masters exhibition in Munich in 1869.8 Georg Jacob Wolf, who was among the first to study the Leibl circle, cited the “ruff paintings”9 as the most incontrovertible evidence of the artists’ engagement with the old masters,10 even if the lace collar that starting in the sixteenth century signalled a subject of high status had to yield to the plain starched collar that was to remain a salient characteristic of bourgeois portraiture for years to come: “This white as a bearer of coloured reflections seemed […] especially well suited to varying the colour of the flesh and using the same as a foil.”11 Tellingly, Trübner was in possession of Leibl’s Young Redhead, an en face portrait study of a boy wearing a wide ruff,12 since he, too, was preoccupied with this type of portrait.13 Remarkable for its intensity, Trübner’s self-portrait shows the artist aged twenty-five or thereabouts, and has been identified by Rohrandt as a product of Trübner’s early period, to be dated 1876.14 A related work painted in preparation for our portrait and dated 1876 on the verso recently turned up on the auction market.15 Quite apart from the fact that it was clearly executed as a study, it differs in terms of overall impact, too, in that the face is so heavily shaded that instead of the immediacy conveyed by our painting, the subject seems more aloof. Our version also allows the clothes worn by Trübner, specifically his jacket with wide lapels, to be more readily identified.

The painting was restituted to the heirs of Berthold and Martha Nothmann in an amicable settlement of 2011, and thereupon sold at action.16

  1. Cf. Holsing, Henrike, “Wilhelm Leibl und sein Kreis – Eine kurze Geschichte des ‘Rein Malerischen’,” in exh. cat. Rein Malerisch. Wilhelm Leibl und sein Kreis, Museum im Kulturspeicher, Würzburg 2013/2014, pp. 17 ff.

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  3. Trübner, Wilhelm, Personalien und Prinzipien, Berlin 1907, p. 11.

  4. Hans Canon (1829 Vienna –1885 Vienna).

  5. Trübner 1907, p. 12.

  6. Ibid., pp. 12–13.

  7. Hans Canon, Wilhelm Trübner in historisierender Kleidung, oil on canvas, 49.5 x 35.5 cm, Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg (inv. no. G 1924).

  8. Wolf, Georg Jacob, Leibl und sein Kreis, Hanover 1924, p. 76.

  9. This is the term used by Wolf, ibid., p. 75.

  10. Cf. Wolf, ibid.

  11. Ibid., p. 76.

  12. Illus. in Waldmann, Emil, Wilhelm Leibl. Eine Darstellung seiner Kunst. Gesamtverzeichnis seiner Gemälde, Berlin 1914, No. 85.

  13. Cf. Junge mit Halskrause, oil on canvas, 41.5 x 33.5 cm, signed at bottom right: W. Trübner, Belvedere Vienna, inv. no. 3665.

  14. Rohrandt, Klaus, Wilhelm Trübner (1851–1917). Kritischer und beschreibender Katalog sämtlicher Gemälde, Zeichnungen und Druckgraphik. Biographie und Studien zum Werk (Phil. Diss. Kiel 1972, 3 Vols.), Vol. 2, Part 1, p. 157. Rohrandt erroneously states that the work is actually dated 1876 on the back.

  15. Wilhelm Trübner, Selbstbildnis, oil on canvas, 55.3 x 46.1 cm, signed at top right in red: W. Trübner, auction house Ketterer, Auction 465, Lot No. 63, Munich 18 May 2018.

  16. See entry in Lostart: EinzelobjektSucheSimpel.html?cmsparam=EOBJID%3D297659%26 SUCHEID%3D26147041%26page%3D3%26sort%3D%26anchor %3Dresult.

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