Views of Hamburg: The City in the Painter's Gaze at Hamburger Kunsthalle

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Views of Hamburg: The City in the Painter's Gaze at Hamburger Kunsthalle
Emil Nolde (1867 - 1956), Schlepper auf der Elbe , 1910. Öl auf Leinwand, 71 x 89 cm © Nolde-Stiftung Seebüll. Photo: Elke Walford.

HAMBURG.- Towards the end of the nineteenth century Hamburg became an increasingly popular destination for artists; above all in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the city was a source of inspiration for many leading painters from all over Germany and Europe. They were fascinated by the unique scenery of Hamburg’s city centre, which had been designed and developed around the two Alster lakes, as well as by the busy harbor and the river Elbe. Alfred Lichtwark (1852–1914), who became the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s first director in 1886, soon recognized that the city of Hamburg could be of great interest as a painterly subject to the young, ‘modern’ artists of the time. His aim was to introduce a wider audience to contemporary art, and he hoped that the recognizability of the subject matter might go some way toward counteracting the negative attitude toward art and modernism that currently prevailed in Hamburg, which ranged from hesitant indifference to outright rejection. To this end, Lichtwark established a ‘Sammlung von Bildern aus Hamburg’ (Collection of Paintings from Hamburg) in 1889, for which he commissioned artists – first of all younger painters from Hamburg, later from all over Germany – to paint familiar scenes from the city. In his efforts to promote modern painting, he above all tried to include those painters who had joined together to form the ‘Hamburger Künstlerclub’ (Hamburg Artists’ Club) in 1897. He therefore commissioned works for the Kunsthalle by the Hamburg artists Ernst Eitner, Julius von Ehren, Thomas Herbst, Arthur Illies and Paul Kayser, amongst others. Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth and Max Slevogt were among the leading German artists who took up his invitation to come to Hamburg and subsequently produced a number of exceptional views of the city.

The success of Lichtwark’s efforts to secure visits by Scandinavian artists such as Frits Thaulow from Kristiania (Oslo), Anders Zorn from Stockholm and Laurits Tuxen from Copenhagen, as well as by the French Post-Impressionist painters Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, led to the creation of a large number of works with Hamburg as their theme. Once they had arrived in the city, the artists frequently discovered many subjects other than those Lichtwark had envisaged. Their individual views of the city were often much freer and more modern in a painterly sense. In addition to Lichtwark’s ongoing efforts to encourage artists to visit Hamburg, personal connections between Hamburg collectors and artists also helped to strengthen artistic links with the Hanseatic city. Contacts like these brought the painters Auguste Herbin and Albert Marquet from Paris – the former on the invitation of the collector Henry B. Simms, the latter through the efforts of Henri Matisse. Members of the Brücke group also made numerous visits, encouraged above all by the Hamburg collectors Paul and Martha Rauert, who collected and supported the work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Emil Nolde, among others.

The exhibition Views of Hamburg. The City in the Painter’s Gaze presents romantically influenced artistic reflections of the subject matter as well as realistically documentary depictions. The body of the exhibition is divided into six sections, grouped around the following themes:

I Life in the City
The city of Hamburg is pictured as an architectural ensemble, with a focus on new building developments – the result, among other things, of the expansion of the city into peripheral areas and of increasing industrialization.

II The Inner Alster Lake
Urban life in the inner city developed around the artificially created basin of the Inner Alster lake. This unique situation – having a body of water in the middle of the city – is a prominent theme here.

III The Outer Alster Lake
Many times larger than the Inner Alster, the Outer Alster lake is presented as a place to enjoy leisure activities. The most popular subject in this context is the Uhlenhorst Ferry House, with numerous images of the building illuminated at night.

IV The Harbor
As one of the city’s main attractions, the harbor reflects the transition from inner city architecture to a site of trade and industry on and by the water.

V The River Elbe
As both a river and a commercial waterway, the Elbe struck a balance between nature and industry, a coexistence that underwent rapid change as the harbour expanded. Characteristic of this development was the expansion along the Köhlbrand and the natural landscape surrounding the Elbe to the west of the city.

VI The Countryside Around Hamburg
Popular subjects in these works are the diverse agricultural landscapes of the Vierlande und Marschlande areas on the Elbe islands to the south-east of Hamburg and in the Altes Land, as well as the romantic, unspoilt upper reaches of the river Alster up to the first locks in Mellenburg.

The exhibition features works from the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s own collection, augmented by loans from national and international, private and public collections. It includes around 100 paintings and works on paper as well as photographs by Andreas Feininger, Herbert List, E.O. Hoppé and Albert Renger-Patzsch.

Hamburger Kunsthalle | Alfred Lichtwark | Frits Thaulow | Andreas Feininger | Herbert List |

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