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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.



German States: The Reshaping of Austria and Prussia



After the Congress of Vienna, Austria sought to exert its influence throughout Europe: Metternich's policy of restoring the pre-revolutionary order decisively shaped European politics and made it possible for the Habsburgs to avoid giving way to demands for reform. The situation in Prussia was different; the humiliating defeat at the hands of Napoleon led to sweeping reforms of the military and bureaucracy aimed at strengthening the state. Therefore the largest German nations developed very differently and eventually became rivals. This explains why Bismarck was able to unify Germany in the 1860s without Austrian support but with the widespread acceptance of the people.


Restoration Policy of the German Confederation

After the Napoleonic Wars, Chancellor Metternich sought to build a conservative consensus in the German Confederation. The Carlsbad Decrees were introduced to discourage radicalism and dissent and, though much resented by liberal intellectuals, were effective in the short term.


On June 10,1815, 37 sovereign German princes and four free cities signed the 2 Confederation Act of 1815, by which—supplemented by the 65 articles of the final act of the Congress of Vienna of July 20,1820—the constitution of the German Confederation was to be regulated.

The confederation was considered the successor to the Holy Roman Empire, which had been dissolved in 1806.

All participating states remained independent and sent their representatives to the 3 Diet, which met in Frankfurt and was chaired by the Austrian chancellor, Prince von Metternich.

2 First page of the Confederation Act
of June 8, 1815

3 Meeting of the Diet in Frankfurt on the Main, 1815

His goal was to align the foreign policies of the individual states and pursue policies favorable to Austria, which meant maintaining Austrian influence there. Under discussion was the shape of a new unified German Reich. The "lesser German solution" envisioned a German state without Austria and with Prussian supremacy. The "greater German solution" would have included Austria, but also the deep-seated rivalry between the two major powers Austria and Prussia.

In the failed March Revolution of 1848, German patriots were roused to open demonstration of their dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs. This unrest alarmed many of the smaller German states, and forced them to concede liberal reform measures. In the aftermath, the German Confederation was temporarily abandoned. From this point on, until the Seven Weeks' War of 1866, the struggle between Prussia and Austria lay at the heart of German politics.

The German Confederation attempted to suppress the nationalist movements that were growing in strength in many German cities.

The student fraternities, or "dueling societies," were considered to be hotbeds of violent radicalism, and they were therefore prohibited under the 1 Carlsbad Decrees of 1819.

1 The Thinkers Club, cartoon satirizing the restrictions placed on the freedom
of speech and of the press by the Carlsbad Decrees



Student Fraternities

The student fraternities emerged out of the volunteer corps that had fought against Napoleon between 1812 and 1815. They adopted the colors of the Lutzow Volunteers—black, red, and gold—as the "German colors."

They borrowed the concepts of nationalism and liberty from Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Ernst Moritz Arndt, and they put forward demands for democratization during the Wartburg festival in 1817 and in their memorandum of 1818. In 1833, some of the members stormed the Frankfurt police station.

Students and workers storm the Frankfurt police station, 1833




The German states prior to March 1848

German historians refer to the decades preceding the revolution of March 1848 as the "Pre-March" period, a time when radical agitation coexisted with apolitical escapism.


The suppression of revolutionaries and liberals alike took place, in accordance with the Carlsbad Resolutions, through censorship of the press and the appointment of a central investigation commission in Mainz, whose duty it was to spy on "revolutionary intrigues and demagogic associations."

In addition, the universities were purged of suspect faculty members; the 7 "Gottingen Seven," which included the Grimm brothers, were victims of this policy in 1837.

7 The "Gottingen Seven": W.E. Albrecht, F. Ch. Dahlmann,
H. Ewaid, G.G. Gervinus, W. E. Weber,
and the brothers J. and W. Grimm

The Carlsbad Decrees had been provoked by, among other instances of revolutionary fervor, the assassination of Kotzebue, the Russian State Counsellor, by a student in 1819.

There followed disciplinary measures, arrests, and imprisonments, including that of the founder of the German gymnastics movement, 6 Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.

6 Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, politician and
founder of the German gymnastics movement

The 1830 July Revolution in France gave further impetus to liberal and nationalist groups.

The high point of the German unity and liberation movement came in May 1832 at the 4 Hambach festival.

4 The Hambach festival, May 27-30, 1832

More than 30,000 people bearing the black, red and gold German colors marched past Neustadt to Hambach Castle and demanded the sovereignty of the people and a united republican Germany. The events at Hambach, together with the assault on the Frankfurt Diet, represented serious challenges to the established order. The authorities responded by banning all political associations, public assemblies, and festivals and by tightening press censorship. The organizers of the festival were arrested, and the professors involved were suspended from teaching.



Contemporaneous with the radical currents of the "Pre-March" period (between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the March Revolution of 1848) which was supported by literary figures such as HEINRICH HEINE and Georg Buchner (who wrote "Peace to the cottages! War to the palaces!") was a current called Biedermeier. This referred to the lifestyle of the middle class, which was either apolitical or leaned toward the conservative side.

Biedermeier style
in art, transitional period between Neoclassicism and Romanticism as it was interpreted by the bourgeoisie, particularly in Germany, Austria, northern Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. Following the Napoleonic sieges, the Biedermeier style grew during a period of economic impoverishment from 1825 to 1835.

The name Biedermeier was derogatory because it was based on the caricature “Papa Biedermeier,” a comic symbol of middle-class comfort. Such comfort emphasized family life and private activities, especially letter writing (giving prominence to the secretary desk) and the pursuit of hobbies. No Biedermeier household was complete without a piano as an indispensable part of the popularized soiree. Soirees perpetuated the rising middle class’s cultural interests in books, writing, dance, and poetry readings—all subject matter for Biedermeier painting, which was either genre or historical and most often sentimentally treated.

The most representative painters include Franz Kruger, Georg Friedrich Kersting (1785-1847), Julius Oldach, Carl Spitzweg, and Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Typical of Biedermeier art are the paintings of Franz Carl Spitzweg (1808-85), whose gently satirical 8 paintings of the life of the German middle class depict a harmonious world.

The typical Biedermeier style expressed the notion of 5 Gemutlichkeit— homely comfort—and moderation and was an intentional reaction to the opulence of the Imperial style.

It can also be seen as a kind of escapism from the harsh political climate.

5 Biedermeier room, painting, ca. 1840 by Kersting Georg Friedrich

8 The Sunday Walk, a gently ironic portrayal of a petit-bourgeois family in the countryside,
typical Biedermeier style painting by
Carl Spitzweg, 1841

see also:
Carl Spitzweg

see also:
Georg Friedrich Kersting



Excerpt from the Song of Hambach:

"We want to found a fatherland,
And dedicate it to freedom:
Then in the face of tyranny
the free German will no longer bow...
If in a fight one stands for all,
and all for one, then flourishes
the people's power and majesty
and each heart glows
For a single goal, for a single good,
Let freedom burn,
for the fatherland's good."

Banner of the Hambach festival, 1832





From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 A Biedermeier interior, Berlin: fitted carpets, unified window and pier-mirror draperies,
and framed engravings in a restrained classicising style

In Central Europe, Biedermeier refers to work in the fields of literature, music, the visual arts and interior design in the period between the years 1815 (Vienna Congress), the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and 1848, the year of the European revolutions and contrasts with the Romantic era which preceded it. The style corresponds to the Regency style in England, Federal style in the United States and to the French Empire style.

Literature and music
The term Biedermeier comes from the pseudonym Gottlieb Biedermaier, used by the country doctor Adolf Kussmaul and the lawyer Ludwig Eichrodt in poems, printed in the Munich Fliegende Blätter (Flying Sheets), parodying the poems of the Biedermeier era as depoliticized and petit-bourgeois. The name was constructed from the titles of two poems (Biedermanns Abendgemütlichkeit (Biedermann's Evening Comfort) and Bummelmaiers Klage (Bummelmaier's Complaint)) that Joseph Victor von Scheffel had published in 1848 in the same magazine. As a label for the epoch, the term has been used since around 1900.

Typical Biedermeier poets are Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Adelbert von Chamisso, Eduard Mörike, and Wilhelm Müller, the last two of which have well-known musical settings by Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert respectively. Adalbert Stifter is a novelist and short story writer whose work also reflects the concerns of the Biedermeier movement, particularly with his novel, Der Nachsommer. As Carl Schorske puts it, "To illustrate and propagate his concept of Bildung, compounded of Benedictine world piety, German humanism, and Biedermeier conventionality, Stifter gave to the world his novel Der Nachsommer".

Biedermeier can be identified with two trends in early nineteenth-century German history.

The first trend is growing urbanization and industrialization leading to a new urban middle class, and with it a new kind of audience. The early Lieder of Schubert, which could be performed at the piano without substantial musical training, illustrate the broadened reach of art in this period. Further, Biedermeier writers were themselves mainly middle-class, as opposed to the Romantics, who were mainly drawn from the nobility.

The second trend is the growing political oppression following the end of the Napoleonic Wars prompting people to concentrate on the domestic and (at least in public) the non-political. Due to the strict publication rules and censorship, writers primarily concerned themselves with non-political subjects, like historical fiction and country life. Political discussion was usually confined to the home, in the presence of close friends. This atmosphere changed by the time of the revolutions in Europe in 1848.

Biedermeier architecture is marked by simplicity and elegance, exemplified by the paintings of Jakob von Alt and Carl Spitzweg. One of the most elegant surviving Biedermeier buildings is the Stadttempel in Vienna. Through the unity of simplicity, mobility and functionality the Biedermeier created tendencies of crucial influence for the Jugendstil / Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus and the 20th century.

Biedermeier Sofa

Furniture design
Biedermeier was an influential style of furniture design from Germany during the years 1815-1848, based on utilitarian principles. The period extended later in Scandinavia as disruptions due to numerous states that made up the German nation were not unified by rule from Berlin until 1871. These post-Biedermeier struggles influenced by historicism created their own styles. Throughout the period emphasis was kept on clean lines and minimal ornamentality; as the period progressed, however, the style moved from the early rebellion against Romantic-era fussiness to increasingly flourished commissions by a rising middle class eager to show their newfound wealth. The idea of clean lines and utilitarian postures would resurface in the twentieth century, continuing to the present day. Middle- to late-Biedermeier work in furniture design represents the a heralding towards historicism and revival eras long sought for. Social forces originating in France would change the artisan-patron system that achieved this period of design, first in the Germanic states and then into Scandinavia. Of course the middle class growth originated in the English industrial revolution and many Biedermeier designs owe their simplicity to Georgian lines of the 1800s, as the proliferation of design publications reached the loose Germanic states and the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Biedermeier style was a simplified interpretation of the influential French Empire Style of Napoleon I. He introduced the romance of ancient Roman Empire styles, adapting these to modern early 19th century households. Biedermeier furniture grew out of the French Empire Period, but used locally available materials such as cherry, ash and oak woods rather than the expensive timbers such as fully imported mahogany. Whilst this timber was available near trading ports such as Antwerp, Hamburg and Stockholm, it was taxed heavily every time it passed through another principality. This made mahogany very expensive to use and much local cherry and pearwood was stained to imitate the more expensive timbers. Stylistically, the furniture was simple and elegant. Its construction utilised the ideal of truth through material, something that later influenced the Bauhaus and Art Deco periods.

Many unique designs were created in Vienna. This is because the young apprentice was examined on his use of material, construction, originality of design, and quality of cabinet work, before being admitted to the league of approved master cabinetmakers. Furniture from the earier period (1815-1830) was the most severe and neoclassical in inspiration. It also supplied the most fantastic forms which the second half of the period (1830-1848) lacked, being influenced by the many style publications from England. Biedermeier furniture was the first style in the world that emminated from the growing middle class. It preceded Victoriana and influenced mainly Germanic-speaking countries. In Sweden, Marshal Bernadotte, whom Napoleon appointed as ambassador to Sweden to sideline his ambitions, abandoned his support for Napoleon in a shrewed political move. Later, after being adopted by the last Vasa king of Sweden who was childless, he became Sweden's new king Karl Johan. The Swedish Karl Johan style, similar to Biedermeier, retained its elegant and blatant Napoleonic style throughout the 19th century.

Biedermeier furniture and lifestyle was a focus on exhibitions at the Vienna applied arts museum in 1896. The many visitors to this exhibition were so influenced by this fantasy style and its elegance that a new resurgence or revival period became popular amongst European cabinetmakers. This revival period lasted up until the Art Deco style was taken up. Biedermeier also influenced the various Bauhaus styles through their truth in material philosophy.

The original Biedermeier period changed with the political unrests of 1845-1848 (its end date). With the revolutions in European historicism, furniture of the later years of the period took on a distinct Wilhelminian or Victorian style.

The term Biedermeier is also used to refer to a style of early clocks made in Vienna in the early 19th Century. The clean and simple lines included a light and airy aesthetic, especially in Vienna regulators of the Lanterndluhr and Dachluhr styles.


Franz Carl Spitzweg



The Poor Poet


Der strickende Vorposten


Zeitungsleser im Garten



Georg Friedrich  Kersting



Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio


Man Reading by Lamplight



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