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Pinakothek in Munich opens 'Stories in Pictures: Edward von Steinle and Leopold Bode'
Leopold Bode (1831–1906), Pippin und Bertha (Die Sage von der Geburt und Kindheit Kaiser Karls des Großen), Mittelbild: Abholung Berthas und Carls durch Pippin und Berthas Eltern, 1876. Öl auf Leinwand, 112,1 × 165 cm © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Sammlung Schack, München. Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

MUNICH.- Among the artists particularly highly esteemed by the collector Adolf Friedrich von Schack were Edward von Steinle (1810–1886) and Leopold Bode (1831–1906). Steinle is considered one of the leading Nazarene painters of the second generation, after Peter Cornelius and Friedrich Overbeck, whose pupil and friend he was. Born in Vienna, he lived in Frankfurt am Main from 1839 onwards, where he was professor for history painting at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut from 1850 and one of the most sought-after painters of religious pictures in Germany. Bode, who was born in Offenbach am Main, was a pupil of Steinle and occasionally worked together with him on large projects such as the frescos in the first Wallraf-Richartz Museum and in Cologne Cathedral. The reason that Schack – a liberal and decidedly non-religious contemporary – was interested in these artists is to be found in the works outside the field of official monumental paintings that were, even then, familiar to only a few: delightful paintings with motifs from sagas and fairy tales from the Middle Ages and the Romantic period. Several of both Steinle’s and Bode’s most beautiful works are pictures that draw on such themes.

For the collector Schack, himself a poet and translator, literature was an elixir of life; he only considered painting to be art when it was ‘permeated by a poetic spirit’. By staging an exhibition on the subject of 19th-century narrative painting in the Sammlung Schack, a venue has been chosen that stands for the close correlation between the two art forms in the Romantic era like hardly any other. For this exhibition – the first dedicated exclusively to these two artists – some thirty works and series of pictures have been brought together. They provide an insight into a pictorial world that seemed to have disappeared and been forgotten for decades. An exhibition has been created that invites visitors not only to immerse themselves in this world of images and read the pictorial narratives but also to discover the painters as poets. An extraordinary exhibition in an extraordinary setting.

Literary material found its way into Edward von Steinle’s work through his friendship with the poet Clemens Brentano. Brentano’s fairy tales and stories, and later William Shakespeare’s comedies, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic ‘Parzival’, provided inspiration for his paintings and picture cycles that are among the most remarkable compositions in German painting in the field of the narrative picture. In sensitive compositions, rich in detail, Steinle endeavours to ferret out the essence of his literary sources without slipping into the field of purely illustrative art. The watercolours and oil paintings are pictorial compositions in a class and with a character of their own; the painter himself becomes a poet and an exegete of the works. From the 1870s onwards, Leopold Bode specialised uniquely in images based on fairy tales and sagas, depicting the stuff of Shakespeare’s comedies, the Charlemagne sagas and medieval epic poems. Bode develops a specific fairy-tale style that captures the magical in Shakespeare and the fabulous in the epic works of the Middle Ages.

Steinle and Bode mounted their subtly executed watercolours and oil paintings in magnificent, architect-designed gilded frames, thus creating representative showpieces that were bought by the nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie. Many of these works are still to be found in private ownership to this day, with only a few entering public collections.

Both artists are virtually unknown today and can be rediscovered in this exhibition. Numerous works have either never been shown to the public before or not for more than a century at least. Among the most beautiful rediscoveries is the large watercolour cycle, based on tales by Clemens Brentano that Steinle painted in 1854 for the poet’s nephew, Carl von Guaita. It represents one of the artist’s major works.

Not only the œuvres of the two artists have been the subject of research but improvements have also made to the works themselves for the long term. The principal work by Bode in the Sammlung Schack is the triptych ‘Pippin and Bertha’ that tells of Charlemagne’s history and of his childhood. Schack acquired it in 1876 from the artist and had a grand, carved oak frame made that was lost in World War II. A photograph taken in 1909 shows the original frame and an entry in Bode’s diary, that describes the material and its execution precisely, made it possible for a reproduction to be made. The reconstructed frame will be presented in the exhibition for the first time.

A catalogue with contributions by Andrea Gottdang, Joachim Kaak, Hubertus Kohle, Herbert W. Rott, Carola Sauter, Ulf Sölter and Agnes Thum, will be published by Prestel to accompany the exhibition; 216 pages with 212 illustrations.

The exhibition has been created together with the Clemens Sels Museum Neuss. In Neuss, it will be expanded to include a section on works by Steinle and Bode in the Rhineland; the exhibition will run from 7 April until 30 June 2019.

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