Monday, 23 June 2014

Götzenberger in England

Franz Jakob Götzenberger, generally known in Germany as Jakob Götzenberger, was born in Heidelberg in 1802. He trained as an artist in Dusseldorf, where he was a pupil of Peter Cornelius. In his time, Cornelius was name to conjure with, a promoter of grand schemes of public frescoes; imagine a Benjamin Robert Haydon who got his way. Whether people ever  actually liked his works is open to question, but they were, for a while at least, certainly impressed by them.

It was with a project initiated by Cornelius - for four murals in the "Aula" or lecture hall at Bonn University - that Götzenberger's career really got underway. He only assisted with the first of the frescoes - each of which represented one of the faculties of the university, in elaborate allegorical compositions inspired by Raphael's "School of Athens". He was however, largely responsible for the other three, Cornelius and most of his acolytes having settled in Munich by the time they came to be painted. Götzenberger continued working in the "Aula" until 1836.

The Bonn murals were destroyed during the Second World War, but two other schemes  - in the private chapel of a newly built mansion at Nierstein, and the loggia of the pump room at Baden-Baden (1844) - survive. I might return to these in another post.

Der Grafensprung from Götzenberger's Baden-Baden murals

At some time in the 1840s things went wrong for Götzenberger in Germany, though I can't find any explicit mentions of what happened. Resigning  his position  as court painter at Mannheim,  he moved to England,, setting himself up in a a studio at 46 Berners Street in London. His name starts to become a little fluid: he is usually referred to as "Herr Gotzenberg", with or without an umlaut; he showed as "F. Gotzenberg" at the Royal Academy, and is presumably the "Francis Gotzenberg of Baden"  who beacame a British citizen in 1859.

Götzenberger had been to England before, and had met William Blake in early 1827, with their mutual friend Henry Crabb Robinson acting as interpeter.

A couple of reviews indicate a generally positive response to him in his new country. In September 1855 the Art Journal paid a visit to Gotzenberg's studio. and liked what it saw:
We noticed some time ago an exhibition of cartoons and other works of art, which were exhibited in the rooms of the Reunion des Arts in Harley Street. Of these works we spoke in the high terms of commendation which they merit, and which we feel to be justified on a second opportunity with which wo have been favoured, of seeing them at the residence of the artist, No. 46, Berners Street. These works—historical and poetical—remind us of what we have so often expressed a wish to see more cultivated among ourselves; that is a high tone of decorative art. Many years have now elapsed, but we do not feel that in the way of popularising didactic art, anything has been done by the Westminster Exhibition. Herr Gotzenberg was one of the favourite pupils of Cornelius, with whom he worked, and subsequently received the appointment of principal painter to one of the German Courts. We have seen a series of works which he has lately executed for Mr. Morrison; the subjects are from Dante, some of the most striking scenes from the Divina Commedia; graceful, spirited, and full of the mystic poetry of the prince of the Italian poets".
In the following  February   The Spectator  informed its readers that:
Readers who take an interest in the German phase of art development may add something to their knowlege of it if they gain access to the studio of Herr Götzenberg, a pupil, as we understand, of Cornelius, at present resident in Berners Street. The employment of this artist on considerable series of frescoes in Bonn and Baden bears witness to the estimation in which he is held in his own country; and the cartoons of these works to be seen in the studio will show the Englishman what standing he occupies among the creditable disciples of a school to which the most adverse cannot deny the virtues of thought and study. The chief cartoon represents , in ideal reunion, after the fashion of Delaroche's Hemicyle in Paris, saints and great churchmen, and includes several earnestly elaborated heads. In England,  Herr Götzenberg, doing as the English do, not without scorn doubtless from German high art,  has painted some subjects of a very different class – interiors from Oxford, Leicester and other places. In these works, his tone of colour assimilates to our own; and he exhibits in a high degree the qualities which go to the painting of a good interior, – truthful and pleasant light and shade, figures introduced with natural appropriateness, and portrait-like truth of rendering.

The "Westminster Exhibition" referred  to by the Art Journal had been held in Westminster Hall, to choose artists to decorate the new Houses of Parliament, built following the destruction by fire of the Old Palace of Westminster in 1834.  Peter Cornelius himself was asked over from  Germany to advise. This should have been the great opportunity for artists in Britain to press the cause of grand public schemes of art. As it was, the whole thing fell a bit flat. Nothing shown was capable of  creating a new enthusiasm  for high-minded decoration and Götzenberger only seems to have done three decorative schemes in Britain: one is at Bridgewater House in Britain  London (which did not please its architect, Charles Barry), and another, consisting of four panels showing scenes from the Ballad of Chevy Chase,is  in the guard room at Alnwick Castle. This was done at the very end of Götzenberger's time in Britain; indeed some of the German potted biographies say that he completed the cartoons following his move to Lucerne in around 1863. The contract for the paintings, naming the artist as "Francis. Gotzenberg" was auctioned a few years ago.

The Dante panels for Mr Morrison, mentioned in the Art Journal,  are less well documented. The most obvious identification of Morrison is as the art collector James Morrison, one-time owner of the remains of William Beckford's Fonthill  who later set himself up at Basildon Park near Reading. This seems to be to be correct. I had to turn to Wikipedia for information, but it seems soundly sourced from the National Trust guide to  Basildon Park. It turns out that Morrison replaced some grisaille paintings in the dining room there  with coloured scenes from Dante - the artist is not named anywhere, but in the light of the Art Journal's comments, they seem almost certainly to have been by Götzenberger. The entire decor of  the room was removed and sold in 1929. It was exported to the United States, where it was used to furnish what became known as the "Basildon Room" at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. An old postcard describes the paintings as "attributed to  Angelika Kauffmann".

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Full details and permissions here.
I can find traces of three interiors of the type mentioned by the "Spectator". One with contemporary figures, catalogued on the BBC/PCF "Your Paintings" site  as "Conversation Piece, Henry Foulkes, Thomas Briscoe and William Dyke by Jakob Götzenberger" is in the collection of Jesus College. Mention of another Oxford subject, this time  with a historical theme, "Charles I in Divinity School, Oxford" turns up on auction record sites. The third, catalogued as "The Mayor and Town Council of Leicester in the Mayor's Rooms" by "Gotzenburg", and now in Leicester Town Hall, is another Civil War subject: the Royalist mayor and councillors are rushing to take up their weapons to ward off the besieging Parliamentarians.

"Conversation Piece, Henry Foulkes, Thomas Briscoe and William Dyke"  in the collection of Jesus College Oxford
The Mayor and Town Council of Leicester in the Mayor's Rooms" by "Gotzenburg",  in Leicester Town Hall.

[References: Henry Crabb Robinson Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, etc. (1922);  BBC Your Paintings, articles  in The Spectator and Art Journal.  The attributions of the Leicester and Basildon Park/ Waldorf  Astoria paintings are my own deductions]

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