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Hans Rosenhagen, "National Art in Berlin" (1897)

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idea. In the domain of genre painting, to use the common expression, Liebermann has escaped him entirely; and instead of mentioning Uhde as a distinguished representative of modern painters of religious subjects, he can only name two wholly inferior artists in this field. And this gentleman, who, for the most part, obviously closes his eyes when he visits an exhibition of modern art, stands at the head of an institute upon whose competence and effectiveness developing young artists must depend. Werner’s listing of famous portrait painters is genuinely entertaining. Along side Rembrandt we find Bonnat, next to Holbein there is Anton Graff, next to Reynolds stands Gustav Richter. And his speech becomes quite hilarious when he grows agitated about a scholar of art history who maintains that Manet discovered plein air painting when he once painted Mrs. de Nittis in the garden. The great Werner himself made this discovery before Manet. And then we hear the absurd assertion that the new direction in art has become prominent only through agitation, advertising and sensational promotion. There is no point in listing the absurdities in this speech, one after another. The lecture presupposes – and again herein lies the boundless arrogance of Mr. von Werner – in the students of the academy a level of ignorance which, in a city like Berlin, where they need only open their eyes, must seem quite preposterous. But if it was rather imprudent of Mr. von Werner to expose his self-serving lecture in all its vulnerabilities to the pressure of criticism, then his publication, likewise in the Vossischen Zeitung, of a statement of gratitude for the many words of praise he received for the speech must be seen as his crowning achievement. With it he has again demonstrated that to glorify the name of Werner, all means, including even the coarsest, are welcome.

Since we know that Mr. von Werner belongs to those artists who advise the Kaiser in artistic affairs, we can hardly be surprised that someone representing so much artistic insignificance has dared to maneuver himself into the vicinity of the Kaiser, while not a single artist among those who are actually giving form to contemporary art is to be found in courtly spheres. Mr. von Werner himself has the greatest interest in encouraging the court to view “national art” and “patriotic art” as one and the same, and since his painting is more effort than art, he is naturally also concerned that, at court, effort be valued more than art. And just as the director of the academy takes pains to insure that his students adopt the worst possible opinions about modern art, so too will he seek to have this art discredited at court, to be viewed as “repulsive,” as so much “worthless trash.” And it is precisely for this reason that it is necessary to point out Mr. von Werner’s crude ignorance of modern art, and to clearly identify the character traits of the Kaiser’s most prominent advisor in artistic matters. Concerning the triviality of his own art, no other artist has ever provided a more classic demonstration than when he himself says: “For historical inaccuracy I have no understanding and no justification. Perhaps this results from the artist’s ceaseless study of nature, which has in fact become second nature to me and will not allow me to paint nine heads where according to nature only eight are possible.” Mr. von Werner does not understand why he is not considered to be a great artist. His most ardent opponent could give no better reason than he does himself with these vain words.

Source: Hans Rosenhagen, “Die nationale Kunst in Berlin“ ["National Art in Berlin"], in Die Zukunft [The Future] 20 (1897), pp. 428-34.

Original German text reprinted in Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel, Die Berliner Moderne 1885-1914 [Berlin Modernity, 1885-1914]. Stuttgart, 1987, pp. 546-50.

Translation: Richard Pettit

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