Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), Hanfstaengl, Fotographie ca. 1860

Carl Spitzweg was born in 1808 in Munich and lived there all his life. He studied pharmacy at the University there and established himself as a pharmacist.

In 1833 he gave up that profession to become a painter. He was financially independent by the financial power that his father Simon Spitzweg a rich spice merchant bequeathed him. He travelled extensively in France and Italy and in 1851 in London and Brussels and Heidelberg. From 1863 he lived in Munich in a roof apartment high up the Muenchener Heumarkt (Haymarket).


During his lifetime he sold his work only to small groups of fans. His fame came slowly because he was long held for an amateur. In 1908 came the first memorial exhibition and in 1913 the first monograph. 
After 1945 he became one of the most popular 19th-century German painters.

Narcisse Diaz de la Pena – The Mill of Barbizon


In 1851 he made in Paris acquaintance with the Barbizon landscape painters, such as Daubigny (1817-1878), Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867) and Narcisse Díaz de la Pena (1808-1878). It inspired him to make his own beautiful landscapes.


He was long mistaken for nothing more than a typical Biedermeier chronicler. But the world of the Biedermeier perished in the Revolution of 1848/1849 and the Biedermeier style was as early as 1840 at its peak.

The Butterfly Catcher

But Spitzweg remained long after that – until 1885 – loyal to his very personal style and his fantasy world. This personal style is characterized by an enchanting picturesqueness combined with an ironic and satirical content.    

The poor poet
The Hermit


The first ten years his paintings had only one central character, as in the poor poet of 1839 and the Hermit of 1841. The hermit is not painted as a romantic character ( as the monks by Caspar David Friedrich) but as a pious brother acting worldly by roasting a chicken.

In 1860, for the first time, several figures are represented. 

The intercepted love letter
Fiat Justitia


His work is seemingly apolitical. Most people looked and look at those paintings as a picture of the good old days. However, there are political-critical woodcuts made after Spitzweg ’s drawings in the Fliegende Blätter of 1848.

“Fiat Justitia”  from 1857 is a highly political painting. The Balance of Lady Justice lacks one scale and a sentry lurks around the corner. In fact, Spitzweg was more attentive, sincere and sharper than most of his German colleagues who showed minimal interest in public and political affairs.


Spitzweg plays as a stage-director a game with the spectator. The gaze of the viewer is in a smart way taken into account by him.

In “Der strickende Vorposten” of 1860 the wall points to the viewer as well as the canon and the soldier seems surprised to become aware of the spectators beneath him and leaves his gun loose.

In “The intercepted love letter” from 1860 the observer oversees the entire scene as an opposite neighbour. The girl herself sees nothing and is as a Gretchen caught in her work. The old woman thinks that a letter descends from heaven, this all in contrast with the diligence of the student.

Der strickende Vorposten – The knitting guard-post
The lover of Cactus


In the “Kaktusliebhaber” of 1855, the loving gaze of a desk man is seemingly answered by the spine plant. The Red Cactus blooms light up like a red eye. The inclination of plants to people seems to tell: nature and civilization are reconciled.

In “The Hagestolz” of 1845 the lonely eternal bachelor looks furtive and longing for a loving couple on a couch.

He stands out against the horizon while all the others are embedded in the landscape which signals security.  But the perspective can change………In “Love Couple in the forest” of 1860, we – ourselves – are looking after the couple and undergo – depending on mood, age, gender – nostalgia, resignation, acceptance, mild confusion or familiar remembrances.

The eternal bachelor


Looking back usually indicates resignation. This resignation also affects Spitzweg as a person: the woman he loved, died before he could ask her.

In “A Hypochondriac” of 1865 those feelings reach a culminating point: high above the rooftops he is caught in himself as a bird in his cage and as the plants in the basket to the balcony. The girl – in reddish light in a dark room –  is unreachable. Wherever one looks are walls to be seen, walls that divide and oppress.

“Im Dachstubchen” – “The Hypochondriac”   
Love couple in the forest

REFERENCE AND SOURCE:  Carl Spitzweg “Zwischen Resignation und Zeitkritik” by Jens Christian Jensen – Dumont Taschenbuch-1979