Our new website, Düsseldorf School of Painting, will be the central source of information about the Düsseldorf School of Painting. The project, which started in autumn 2011, will be regularly expanded and updated.
The Düsseldorf School of Painting
The Düsseldorf School of Painting includes more than 4,000 artists who were active between 1819 and 1918, from the re-foundation of the Royal Prussian Academy of Art in Düsseldorf until the end of the Prussian reign in the Rhineland, either at the Academy of Art itself or nearby. Under its director Wilhelm von Schadow (1826-1859 directorate), the Academy came to be one of the leading German schools for painters; the term Düsseldorf School of Painting soon became well-known beyond the borders of the region. Peter von Cornelius and his successor Wilhelm von Schadow designed a training curriculum for the Academy of Art, which continued to be used into the 20th with very few modifications. It also formed the basis for the lasting success of the Düsseldorf School of Painting.
Initially, the Düsseldorf School of Painting focused on historical painting, and later on landscape and genre painting. Within the hierarchy of different genres, historical painting with its religious, mythological and literary themes was positioned at the top. Schadow took a critical view of painters’ tendency to specialise in individual subject areas, but he was unable to halt this development. In 1828, Johann Wilhelm Preyer painted the first independent still life, thus laying the foundation for the genre of still life painting. In 1827, Carl Friedrich Lessing and Johann Wilhelm Schirmer founded the artists’ association Landschaftlicher Componirverein. Two years later, Schirmer became head of the newly founded class for landscape painting at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. Landscape painting soon came to be the most successful genre of the Düsseldorf School of Painting. Carl Friedrich Lessing was one of the pioneers of genre painting. From the beginning of the 1830s, drawing on Eduard Pistorius, Lessing and Theodor Hildebrandt created works that did not represent events of historical significance but rather everyday situations. Despite the great popularity of these paintings, the academy had no separate class for genre painting until 1874.
Although the name might suggest a mere local significance, the Düsseldorf School of Painting was by no means just a regional phenomenon. The excellent reputation of the Academy and the independent painters attracted a great many artists from all over the world to Düsseldorf. During the 1850s and 60s, when international interest was at its peak, thriving colonies of artists from Scandinavia, America, Russia and the Baltics formed in Düsseldorf. Artists even came from Argentina, Chile, Peru, Cappadocia, India, Java, Iran and New Zealand. Some just stayed for a few months, while others stayed all their lives and significantly shaped the Düsseldorf art scene. Many of the artists returned home and used what they learnt in Düsseldorf to set up new schools of art. Within Germany, too, members moved to other institutions, taking Düsseldorf’s style of painting with them. They taught at the art academies in Dresden, Karlsruhe and Berlin, the Art Institute in Frankfurt a. M., the art schools of Kassel and Weimar. The Düsseldorf School of Painting thus had a significant influence on the development of painting in the 19th century.
The Düsseldorf School of Painting also owes its fame to the business sense and the good international networks that the artists set up. Since there were not enough public commissions for all of Düsseldorf’s artists, art history professor Ignaz Mosler, with support from Schadow, initiated the foundation of the Rhineland and Westphalia Art Club in 1829. The club promoted the sale of works of art and their dissemination through annual exhibitions, acquisitions, draws and the circulation of re-engravings. The Art Club also organised travelling exhibitions that toured to venues as far away as America and Australia. The Galerieverein set up in 1846 also bought important works for Düsseldorf’s collection of paintings. The effects of the industrialisation in the Rhineland with its prospering consumers also had a beneficial effect. The Art Club experienced rising competition from the rapidly expanding network of sales exhibitions organised by the galleries and auction houses. One of these was the permanent art exhibition of the Eduard Schulte gallery. Artists from Düsseldorf regularly showcased their works at the Berlin Academy exhibitions, were important sales were made too. From 1849, the works by members of the Düsseldorf School of Painting also began to attract much interest in the US following the opening of Prussian consul John G. Böker’s Düsseldorf Gallery in New York.
The artists of the Düsseldorf School of Painting were actively involved in the city’s cultural life, not just in the area of fine arts, but literature, theatre and music too. They maintained contacts with Karl Immermann, who had become the director of Düsseldorf’s theatre in 1832, as well as with Düsseldorf’s music directors Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Robert Schumann. They organised processions, did the decorations and costumes for theatre performances, designed artistic posters and illustrated poems. The painters also organised masques and created so-called ‘Living Pictures’ based on paintings. The artists of the Düsseldorf School of Painting were also famously sociable and were members of many clubs. The most famous one of them is the Malkasten artists association, founded in 1848, which most of Düsseldorf’s artists belonged to. It is still active to this day.