Antique motifs and a sensuous rendering that delights in narrative are the main characteristics of historicism. In Vienna this epoch is also called the "Makart era" after its most prominent representative. Many of Makart's major works can be seen in the Belvedere, which owns the most significant collection of art from the "Ringstrasse" era, when the great ring road was under construction. Pictures by the historicist painter Franz Defregger, the individualistic Anton Romako or the Orient painter Leopold Carl Müller are among the most outstanding examples of each pictorial genre.
The Viennese art scene of the late nineteenth century was dominated by Hans Makart. Born in 1840 in Salzburg, he studied at first with Piloty in Munich and, at the wish of the emperor, came to Vienna in 1869. In 1879, he was appointed professor of historical painting at the Academy. His painting is rich in detail and breathtaking in its technical mastery, which he was fond of demonstrating publicly at his studio parties. Hence all his works, including his superlative portraits, might be seen as strikingly dramatic performances. The Modern Amoretti were his first great success, produced while he was still in Munich; the design for the Entry of Charles V into Antwerp gathers together not only historical personalities (e.g. Dürer), but also the faces of beauties who were famed around town. No less than overwhelming in scale and technical mastery, however, is The Triumph of Ariadne , measuring 4.76 x 7.84 m. This work (a curtain design for the Komische Oper) is one of the many commissions linked to the Ringstrasse development, which affected all artistic genres; thus Vienna attracted artists from all parts of the monarchy, and above all from Germany.
One of these was Anselm Feuerbach, son of an archaeologist from Speyer, who had spent much time in Italy. Here he made friends with Böcklin and Begas. In 1872 he was appointed to a professorship at the Vienna Academy, but did not stay long owing to the Viennese preference for Makart. The German was far more reserved in character and painted melancholy pictures of mythological scenes, such as Orpheus and Euridice ; their strict composition and discreet use of colour could not compete with the rapturous ecstasy of Makart’s works.
Another artist to suffer under Makart’s dominance was Anton Romako, who first came to prominence as a great artist and model through the Austrian Expressionists. His painting is subtle in the use of colour, but highly individual, his style combines graphic and painterly characteristics. As a fiftreen-year-old, he was a pupil of Waldmüller and Rahl at the Vienna Academy; he went to Italy in 1857, where he married, and stayed for 20 years without ever completely giving up his contacts to Vienna. After Makart’s death, he tried to establish himself once more in his native city, but without success. The years 1870 to 1875 were darkened by family crises, which led to his wife leaving him and the five children. Romako was urgently dependent on the sale of his pictures and painted popular motifs for travellers to Italy, for instance the Italian Fisher Boy.
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