Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

All acts and gestures of children are graceful since they originate from the fullness of the moment and seemingly actualise the full potential of the moment, free, spontaneous, undisguised and bare of affection, says Fuseli/Füssli in his aphorisms about art. And Kierkegaard says in the moment the temporal and the eternal meet, each moment in time is a cut through the eternal and an epiphany of the eternal. And Schopenhauer says art has to illustrate and comprise entire humanity with no individuals, gestures or scenes being too profane or unimportant as art has to give an idea about humanity in its entirety and its manifoldness. I say graceful gestures uplift the soul and spotting graceful gestures save us from the emptiness that is frequently behind them. I like to spot graceful gestures; they give us an impression/idea of the moment and the transitory as a present that is fulfilled.

If we remember the Biedermeier era again Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller was probably the most prolific painter in Austria. He captured life. He was master at epiphany of the eternal in the transitory, ethical truth in desolation, dissolving heterogeneous and heteronomous realms of culture into a benign nature, etc. In his paintings you have to blossoming of the moment, of the event. Whereas his fellow great Biedermeier painter Amerling was more concerned about depicting the truth of physiognomy Waldmüller was more concerned about the truth in actions and gestures. „Sehr wahr im Ausdruck“ was the highest compliment Waldmüller could have for a painter.


As is common for the art genius Waldmüller had a spiritualised relation to nature. Apart from her beauty, manifoldness, productiveness and hidden treasures of the previously unseen nature strikes us as independent, autonomous, self-contained and original. It is that which predates us, surrounds us and outlives us i.e. giving us an idea of the harmonious whole into which we may immerse and into which we are immersed. To Waldmüller nature is „eternal truth“ and it is not mean or brutal. „The acts of people may occasionally be mean, the forms in which nature expresses itself never are.“

Waldmüller announces the actual endeavour of art is „the portrayal of man as the subject of action which in the form of beauty encourages the spirit of goodness“. Art is an ethical enterprise and is powerful in the respect as it stimulates imagination i.e. it adresses not only the mind but also the sensual and the soul. Negativistic shitheads may belittle the pastoral idyll Waldmüller frequently portrays as unrealistic if not phony. Let them be told that criticism was not encouraged in the Biedermeier era therefore artists had to be tacit. Waldmüller did make explicit social commentary and it may come in as quite powerful like the depiction of Exhausted Strengh of a single mother or in the paintings about the Seizure. The children Waldmüller frequently depicts (as children symbolise innocence, purity, vitality and playfulness and intimate contact with nature) often work or have to follow duties but seem vital, happy and blossoming, their clothes may be old and botchy but they are neat, they walk barefoot but their feet are clean, etc. They express dignity and integrity even under dire conditions. From a realistic perspective that is actually not what you get when you go to the countryside and among the poor; the countryside may be even worse than polis and the poor more degenerated than the rich, granted: but art is also about purification and refinement of man, therefore also about purification and refinement in the portrayal of man (which is largely forgotten today) and whilst Waldmüller´s pastoral idylls may not be realistic they carry (ethical) truth.

  Although dismissive of other genres in painting than the depiction of (ethical) man embedded in circumstances, saying that depiction of landscapes or still lives are merely for sensual pleasures, Waldmüller also was a prolific painter of portraits and landscapes. His portraits had similarity with them of Ingres. In the Biedermeier era the bourgeoisie was not interested in idealised and canonical portraits of themselves like the aristrocrats, proud of their acquired wealth and status they were longing for expression of their true individuality. As a painter of landscapes and unanimated scenery Waldmüller was primarily concerned with how light is truly reflected. That allowed him to depict people and objects in space more truthful, at times isolated objects become, due to their illumination and masterful depiction, even hyperrealistic, in later years he fell from grace in the Viennese academy (and got expelled) for his extremely immersive depictions of landscape in bright sunlight – a personal tragedy frequently to occur for the anti-academic genius iconoclast. After his death Waldmüller received praise particularly from impressionists and the Secessionists, yet although Waldmüller depicted the transitory and was analytical concerning colour he was not particularly a (proto-)impressionist since the contours remain valid and the draughtsmanship pronounced. Waldmüller´s depiction of nature was incredibly detailed, in his later paintings he seems to anticipate Klimt – although this is an auxiliary construction since it is difficult to decipher them ex post. Like any great painter Waldmüller was immersing his vision and the components of vision and the expression of vision into themselves so as they emerge in a new quality out of themselves (die Vision in sich hineintreiben, damit sie verstärkt und erneuert aus sich heraustritt, as I use to say but unfortunately cannot find an adequate translation for hineintreiben). It is true that Biedermeier paining remained „petty“ and local, isolated in itself and this is also true for Waldmüller who is, despite his greatness, not very well known. Yet it was Waldmüller who pushed the inside perimeter of Biedermeier art in Austria into the great wide open and the spherical. (Apart from that he makes it clear that WE have the best of nature; WE, hahaha! – I also remember a globetrotter who told me the most striking mountains on the globe are neither, for instance, the Andes or Himalaya but the ALPS. Hahahahaha!)