Ludwig Knaus was a German painter of genre scenes. He is often associated with the Dusseldorf School of Painting and was one of its most prominent artists. Yet, the painter wasn't wholly contrived to their style. He created somber and gloomy compositions but also used several light colors and a pleasant atmosphere. Ludwig had a Realist manner, and his focus on country scenes was often associated with Naturalism, a realist branch of art that favored detailed pictures of ordinary scenes. Knaus worked mostly as a portraitist and genre painter, but his artworks also attracted the publicity market, from which he worked with a considerable part of his professional life....
Ludwig Knaus was a German painter of genre scenes. He is often associated with the Dusseldorf School of Painting and was one of its most prominent artists. Yet, the painter wasn't wholly contrived to their style. He created somber and gloomy compositions but also used several light colors and a pleasant atmosphere. Ludwig had a Realist manner, and his focus on country scenes was often associated with Naturalism, a realist branch of art that favored detailed pictures of ordinary scenes. Knaus worked mostly as a portraitist and genre painter, but his artworks also attracted the publicity market, from which he worked with a considerable part of his professional life.
Ludwig Knaus was born in October 1829, in the city of Wiesbaden. His father was an oculist and had recently moved to town around the time he was born. Ludwig's father shortly noted the desire to be an artist, and the boy received the encouragement of pursuing a career from his drawing teacher, Philipp Jakob Albrecht. Albrecht was also the teacher of Otto Reinhold Jacobi, a court painter.
Between 1845 and 1852, now in Dusseldorf, Knaus studied under Karl Ferdinand Sohn and Friedrich Wilhelm Von Schadow, who was also the director of the Dusseldorf Academy. He was only 16 when he entered the institution, and there he met fellow painter Anselm Feuerbach who studied under the same masters.
Karl Ferdinand Sohn's oeuvre was highly influenced by Venice painters, and while Realism had a Romantic turn due to this inspiration. During his time, he was praised for perfectly depicting human skill and for his virtuoso technique. Sohn was a notable teacher at the Dusseldorf Academy, and his naturalist style served as the basis for his pupil's work.
Wilhelm Von Schadow was the founder of the Dusseldorf School. As his peer Sohn, who contributed much to the group's formation, Schadow was inspired by Italian art. But he took his lessons mainly from the Quattrocento, which made his artworks even more similar to the Old Masters. He valued linearity and a rigid drawing structure, some of the principles that he taught to the young Ludwig.
In contrast to Schadow's and Sohn's severe and Academic themes, Ludwig Knaus was interested in genre painting, which gave a more modern approach to his work. He usually painted casual moments of his contemporaries but still retained the scheme of the stage in his compositions, and the narrative element was always emphasized.
The Dusseldorf School
While delving further into Ludwig Knaus' paintings, it is essential to understand the Dusseldorf school of painting, a group of painters who studied and taught at the Royal Prussian Academy of Art in the late 19th century. The group's first manifestation was mostly based on Classical art and the Nazarene movement. The Nazarenes were German Romantics that wanted to create an alternative to Neo-Classicism and were heavily inspired by Biblical themes and narratives.
Progressively their idealist and Italianized perspective took a different approach. Many aspiring artists were drawn by the institution. Soon, the Dusseldorf School principles were enlarged and included genre painting, landscape, and had participants who had realist ambitions and wanted to deal with their time's social themes. Lecturers such as painter Johann Wilhelm Schirmer and Karl Friedrich Lessing opposed Schadow's dogma and defended that the landscape genre was as necessary as historical painting. Their teachings were based on the Dutch Golden Age and had classes en plein air.
Slowly but steadily, genre painter as a whole was valued, especially by the students. Their concerns were not only to be inspired by the Old Masters and working the atmosphere of nature, but they had a social leaning that can be seen in their rural and urban scenes. The decade of 1840 was marked by economic recess and was accompanied by a rising awareness by painters. Knaus' art can be understood under this group of painters.
The Dusseldorf School was characterized by finely detailed landscapes exploring the painterly aspects of lighting and the weather. The most dogmatic side of it still championed an Italian style and often worked with allegorical or religious narratives. The painters' group advocated for a composition with even colors, applying a sober and somewhat subdued palette.
The group's teachings and principles significantly influenced the American group, the Hudson River School, training some of their most prominent members such as William Morris Hunt, Albert Bierstadt, and Worthington Whittredge.
Building a Career as a Painter
In 1848 the German painter left the Academy after a conflict with Schadow. Along with Andreas Achenbach, Marc Louis Benjamin Vautier, Joseph Way, and Oswald Achenbach, he created an association of independent artists called Malkasten. Malkasten was politically motivated and sought to guarantee and ensure that artists had their rights preserved. During this period, Ludwig Knaus worked mostly as a portraitist.
Knaus' early artworks, such as The Gamblers, followed many of the Dusseldorf School characteristics, such as the use of a sober color palette, resulting in a rather gloomy atmosphere. His colorwork changed upon his travel to Paris in 1852 when he began to study under Thomas Couture. He continued making gender scenes his whole career.
Knaus achieved recognition in 1853 when he received the second gold medal of the distinguished Paris Salon with his The Morning After. In the next year, he visited the regions of Barbizon and Fontainebleau to do landscape studies. The artist took this opportunity to also visit Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent, in the end, returning to his home city. The next year he is back to Paris and receives a golden medal for his participation in the Exposition Universelle.
The artist visited London in 1856, where he saw many museums and galleries. He spent the rest of the year visiting German cities. In 1857, he executed what is arguably his most famous painting, A Girl on the Field. In the same year, he went to Italian cities such as Venice, Padua, Turin, and Rome, which confirmed that he was more passionate about the intimate feeling of German art than the folkloric qualities he observed in the works there.
In the next year, he kept going back and forth between France and Germany. Knaus started working in the Winterhalter atelier, where he painted Die Goldene Hochzeit, one of his best-known works. At the end of 1859, the artist married Henriette Hoffmann, a woman who was part of Wiesbaden's court. Knaus remained in Paris until 1860.
Married Life in Germany
Ludwig Knaus finally returned back to Germany, first setting up a studio in Wiesbaden. Between 1861 and 1866, the artist worked in Berlin when he executed many famous artworks. During this period, he frequently visited Wiesbaden and The Black Forests region. Over the next eight years, Knaus produced some of his best paintings, such as In Great Distress, The Children's Festival, and The Village Prince.
In 1867 he was once again invited to be part of the Exposition Universelle. Three of his works were part of the show, and he received a gold medal in a ceremony held in Napoleon III's court. At the end of this year, his family moved once again, this time to Dusseldorf.
From 1874 until 1883, Knaus was a Royal Prussian Academy professor in Berlin. In the institution, he was responsible for a class that today is the equivalent of a Master's postgraduate course.
Late Years and Death
In Berlin, Knaus' prowess as a portraitist was recognized. The National Gallery of the city commissioned him the portraits of the historian Theodor Mommsen and physician Hermann von Holtz. They were delighted with his work and honored him with a marble sculpture of his face, done by Otto Lessing.
While in Berlin, the artist visited Willingshausen thrice in the subsequent years. He kept seeing the neighboring countries, going in 1884 to London, 1885 to Vienna and Budapest, and the next years to Paris and Rome. The art dealing company Bismeyer & Kraus organized an exhibition for his 70th birthday.
Ludwig Knaus died in December 1910, in Berlin. His remains are at the Dahlem graveyard.
Knaus received several distinctions throughout his life, such as the gold medal at the Berlin exhibition in 1861. At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, Knaus was awarded the grand medal of honor. He also became a Knight of the Prussian Order and an Officer of the Legion of Honor. Engraving reproductions of his artwork were quite famous among the German peasantry.
Ludwig Knaus: Questions & Answers
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