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First retrospective of Paul Schneider-Esleben's work on view in Munich
Paul Schneider-Esleben, Haniel-Garage, Düsseldorf (1950-53)© Architekturmuseum TUM Photo: Rudolf Eimke.

MUNICH.- Rudolf von Alt (1812–1905) is one of the best-known Austrian artists of the 19th century. Landscapes and city views or vedute became his speciality at an early age as a pupil of his father Jakob, and he remained loyal to the genre for the rest of his almost eighty year-long career.

At the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung Munich there has never before been an extensive exhibition of its entire collection of Alt’s works, which is the most significant outside of Austria. It encompasses extraordinarily detailed watercolours from all phases of the artist’s career as well as countless sketches that afford us direct insights into his working methods.

Taking the time to explore the details of Rudolf von Alt’s pictures can be a rewarding experience. Not only do we discover the towns and regions of the fallen Austro Hungarian Empire, we also encounter the works of a painter who ‘combined technical ability with soul and a true heart’ as Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser once said. Closer inspection further reveals Alt’s modernity, which lies in his gift for observation and his desire to redefine the traditional veduta by painting compositions from unusual angles in his unmistakeable, almost photorealistic style as well as his practice of placing everyday life in the foreground.

As we now know today, a large number of the works at Munich’s Staatliche Graphische Sammlung originally belonged to the artist’s daughter. Other important watercolours came from private collections in Vienna, including those of Jewish collectors, which were later confiscated by the Nazis. A project funded by the Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzforschung (Office of Provenance Research, now Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste), investigated the provenance of 617 drawings and watercolours that were classed as ‘former NS property’ and transferred to the Graphische Sammlung in 1959.

Thanks to the findings of the research project, some of these works are currently being restituted to their former owners, but the provenance of other sections of the Alt collection at the Graphische Sammlung remains unclear due to gaps in the chain of custody and numerous unresolved questions. Once again this case shows that provenance research is not always capable of providing fast and clear-cut solutions, although it must be noted that the work of Rudolf von Alt is particularly tricky for provenance researchers because the artist himself produced numerous copies and different versions of his own works. Fortunately, the in-depth research was able to determine and comprehensively document the origins of many of our watercolours and drawings; and a picture of the history of the art trade and art theft in Vienna between 1938 and 1945 can also be presented now for the first time in greater detail. All of these different aspects have been incorporated into the exhibition.

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