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The Enchanted World of German Romantic Prints opens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Youth Playing a Lyre to a Maiden by a Fountain, c. 1802‑3. Carl Wilhelm Kolbe the Elder, German, 1759 ‑ 1835. Etching and drypoint, Plate: 16 1/4 x 20 15/16 inches (41.2 x 53.2 cm), Sheet: 18 11/16 x 23 11/16 inches (47.4 x 60.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art.
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, prints became widely available to growing and increasingly enthusiastic audiences throughout Europe and the United States. The Enchanted World of German Romantic Prints tells an important chapter in this story. This exhibition, comprising 125 etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts, explores prints by artists from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from 1770 to 1850, and how printmaking reflected the profound cultural changes that swept across the German-speaking regions of Central Europe during this period. The works in the exhibition represent the many artistic enthusiasms of the age: the Romantic fascination with wild, untamed landscapes teeming with life; the intimate pleasures of family scenes and friendship portraits; the rediscovery of ancient Nordic sagas and traditional fairy tales; and the synthesis of visual art, poetry, and music. The Museum’s encyclopedic collection of prints from this period is the finest in the country and includes rare prints unseen even in the finest European collections.

German Romantic Prints features major prints by important artists of the German Romantic era such Caspar David Friedrich, Carl Wilhelm Kolbe the Elder, and Philipp Otto Runge. The revival of interest in regional folk culture and fairy tales provided a rich source of material for artists of the time, including Ludwig Emil Grimm, the younger brother of the famous Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. His print The Boy Turned into a Fawn, Comforted by His Sister and Watched over by an Angel (1819) was used as the frontispiece of an early edition of his brothers’ famous tales. By the 1830s advances in technology allowed for the printing of large editions, and local art societies began to issue annual prints for members. Two large and elaborate etchings by Eugen Napoleon Neureuther illustrate the tales of Sleeping Beauty (1836) and Cinderella (1847) and attest to the continuing popularity of these stories throughout the era.

Caspar David Friedrich, one of the most important German artists of his generation, made only a handful of prints in his career. German Romantic Prints will include his rare woodcut, Woman Seated under a Spider’s Web (1803–4), a quintessential image of the Romantic era: a young woman seated between a pair of barren trees in dense undergrowth, seemingly lost in melancholy meditation on the brevity of life.

In the early 1800s, German artists and art lovers flocked to Dresden to admire Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, a painting represented in this exhibition by an engraving that was once as widely admired as the painting itself. The Sistine Madonna provided the inspiration for Runge’s visionary masterpiece, The Times of Day (Morning, Day, Evening, Night) (1805). This ambitious allegorical series depicting the cycle of life was originally conceived of as a set of mural-sized painted panels, but was realized only in the form of four large etchings, a rare first edition of which will be displayed. These large prints are bordered by delicate ornamental arabesques composed of intricate plant forms, music-playing infants, and cherubs.

An overview of a vital chapter in the history of European printmaking, German Romantic Prints illuminates one of the richest yet least known areas of the Museum’s collection. A selection of prints presented in display cases permits enjoyment of the more finely detailed prints up close.



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