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Paintings like Icons - Victor Man at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Muses and Models - Lagerfeld Meets Feuerbach
An Overwhelming Sincerity - Pawel Althamer at the New Museum


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Muses and Models
Lagerfeld Meets Feuerbach

In a daring experiment, the Hamburg Kunsthalle is showing Anselm Feuerbach, a master of 19th-century painting, with a contemporary genius—Karl Lagerfeld. The two are connected by a shared passion for classical beauty. Lagerfeld created a series of large-scale black and white photographs especially for the Deutsche Bank-sponsored exhibition in which he stages the antique love story “Daphne and Chloe” using prominent models.

He’s regarded as the epitome of the genius misunderstood throughout his lifetime. In a letter dated 1855, Anselm Feuerbach wrote: “I have been called to things great, I know this. I will only find peace in death. I will always endure suffering, but my works will live on forever.” He was only 26, he’d just become acquainted with the contemporary painting of the time in Antwerp and Paris, and he was now living in Italy, the land of his deepest yearning, where he was free to see the works of old masters like Titian in person. Over the decades that followed, Feuerbach developed his own personal style here, distilling his characteristic motifs from antiquity and the Renaissance. The results were portraits of introverted women painted on a neutral background, with a classical profile, long black tresses, and a melancholic gaze into the distance. Unnecessary details were avoided that might deflect the gaze from these women, whom Feuerbach seemed to have revered almost to the point of cultish adoration and who have lost none of their presence, even to this day.

There was one model that fascinated him the most: “Anna Risi, called Nanna, was one of the first models in art history that achieved a kind of cult status, due in part to Anselm Feuerbach’s painting,” explains Hubertus Gassner. The director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle curated the dual show together with Luisa Pauline Fink. “The celebrated model no longer played a role in the art of the avant-garde—she only reappeared in the late 1960s in the fashion world, with models like Twiggy and later Claudia Schiffer, who achieved international fame through Karl Lagerfeld. One basis for the exhibition is the question as to whether the model cult in the second half of the 19th century found its legitimate continuation in 20th-century fashion.”

And indeed, in some of the photographs the top model Bianca Balti, who embodied Chloe for Lagerfeld, could pass for a double of Feuerbach’s muse Anna Risi. Lagerfeld has given the name “modern mythology” to his version of Daphne and Chloe, the antique story of a boy and girl that grow up together among shepherds and discover their love for one another. The fashion designer and photographer’s approximately 60 works, for the most part large-scale, were printed especially for the Deutsche Bank-sponsored show in an elaborate process using silver and gold-colored fabric. The black and white images were taken in the painterly natural environment of the south of France. Rarely has a longing for the idyllic countryside been portrayed with such elegance.

“Feuerbach’s paintings and Lagerfeld’s photographs are connected by far more than one would initially assume,” observes curator Luisa Pauline Fink. “The points of reference in content and visual appearance result from their references to antiquity. It’s about a search for ideal beauty and the ability to represent it, as it’s been interpreted in the 19th and 21st centuries in ways highly specific to the respective time.” The experiment of presenting Feuerbach and Lagerfeld in tandem proves to be surprisingly apt right now, and it’s not only due to the fact that Lagerfeld is the public’s darling. Because with Anselm Feuerbach, one of the most interesting German painters of the era just preceding the emergence of modernism can be discovered at the Kunsthalle. According to the author Florian Illies, the art of the 19th century is “in the best sense unknown terrain.” And the new documenta head Adam Szymczyk raves about the “incredibly dense paintings” of this era. One look at Feuerbach’s paintings makes you understand what they mean.

Achim Drucks

Feuerbach’s Muses – Lagerfeld’s Models
Hamburger Kunsthalle
2/21 – 6/152014

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