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Gaertner: A Visual Beethoven

Eduard Gaertner - Ansicht der Rückfront der Häuser an der Schloßfreiheit - Google Art Project
Rear view of the Houses at Schloßfreiheit, 1855

Eduard Gaertner was a German architectural painter born on June 2, 1801 in Berlin. Known for his stunning attention to detail and his natural use of light, Gaertner was a Romantic who captured the everyday life of Germany with a fondness for the world he lived in. By this time it seems the era of the veduta had waned since Canaletto, yet Gaertner's views are more personal and real. He lived during the early years of photography and this had a marked effect later in his career. Looking at his beautiful scenes, we can sense a yearning for experiencing the moment and not just capturing it, as a camera can. The love of nature and architecture together summarize the sharp eye of Gaertner and in these examples we'll explore why.

In Rear view of the Houses at Schloßfreiheit above, Gaertner uses perspective in a Classic veduta style with prominent architecture, but it is the way that late afternoon sun bathes the buildings while leaving the foreground in cool shadow. The tonal color palette of the architecture itself draws our eye in. It's as if the buildings themselves have personality. The figures strewn across the foreground suggest a lazy Sunday without much activity and the whole painting has a strong presence and mindfulness of the moment.

1833 Gaertner Neue Wache Berlin anagoria
Die Neue Wache in Berlin, 1833

Gaertner's motif of forlorned public areas is not lonely or alienating, but calm and peaceful. Observe how the light in this painting glows so faintly in the foreground, yet becomes brighter towards the setting sun. Yet at the same time, that statue appears stark and immortal against that sky, as does the tree off to the right. Notice how that statue is carefully "caged" inside that ornate wrought-iron gate while the tree is unencumbered and free. Gaertner seems fascinated by the interaction of man-made monuments and architecture vs nature, and how they coexist.

Eduard Gaertner - Die Parochialstraße - Google Art Project
Die Parochialstraße, 1831

Here Gaertner creates an immediacy of a photograph, without the cold detail that a photo would provide. Instead, Gaertner uses color here to heighten the illusion of a painting, almost cartoon-like, but real. For Gaertner, architecture is not a static, inanimate element but a character in the story, just as much as the figures in the paintings. In this typical European street Gaertner invites us for a walk...and we want to, just because.

Blick auf das Kronprinzenpalais
View of the Palace of Crown Prince in Berlin, 1849

In this painting Gaertner gives us a reverse angle of Die Neue Wache in Berlin with an entirely different context and mood. Here people interact with the statue and the streets show activity, the sun is shining brightly. Curiously, the tree is now off to the left and marginalized so to speak, yet still an important framing element. Gaertner reminds us that the same familiar place must be seen with new eyes frequently to truly understand it, as its personality changes with light and the context. Note how the head of the statue is almost exactly in the center of the composition.

Below are a couple of examples of Gaertner's sketches:

Eduard Gaertner Studien zum Brustbild eines liegenden Jungen (Paul Gaertner)
Studien zum Brustbild eines liegenden Jungen

Berlin Bendlerstraße Villen
Three classicist villas in Bendler Street, ca 1852

Eduard Gaertner - The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace, Berlin - Google Art Project
The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace, Berlin, 1850

Gaertner clearly had a genius for interiors that must be acknowledged here, and in this incredibly detailed painting we see the exactness that the camera would soon replace art with. His doting attention to every intricate pattern defies the imagination. Yet again, the surreal use of color clearly indicates this is a painting despite the attention to detail. Despite the lack of figures here the stately elegance and stature of the royalty who lived here conveys a presence nonetheless, quiet and beautiful, and inviting. Gaertner always invites us, never intimidates.

Schlossbrücke, 1861

I love the drama and color scheme here. Gaertner combines warm against cool and uses perspective in such a way that we feel like we are in the painting, seeing what is happening before us physically. Gaertner is literally using values as lines that lead our eye around the painting. Schlossbrücke, or Castle Bridge, still stands today in Berlin but here Schlossbrücke captures a moment of sunshine and beauty...Gaertner understood the true nature of art. Life is short, and art reminds us of the fleeting nature of moments and how we need to appreciate the beauty, experience it, feel it...before it runs through our fingertips. Views are not just pretty postcards. They tell stories. They involve us in the world around us and remind us of how all views have the same common need to be experienced.


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