Carl Spitzweg (German, 1808-1885)
Carl Spitzweg (German, 1808-1885)

Der Hexenmeister

Carl Spitzweg (German, 1808-1885)
Der Hexenmeister
signed with the artist’s rhombus monogram (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 7/8 x 10 5/8 in. (48 x 27.7 cm.)
Painted circa 1875-1880
Adalbert Ritter von Lanna (1836-1909), Prague, probably acquired in 1887.
Leo Bendel (1868-1940), Berlin.
with Galerie Heinemann, Munich, acquired directly from the above, 15 June 1937.
Karoline 'Lina' Friedrika Oetker (1867-1945), Bielefeld, acquired directly from the above, 12 August 1937.
Rudolf-August Oetker (1916-2007), Bielefeld, her grandson, by descent.
Kunstsammlung Rudolf-August Oetker GmbH, Bielefeld, acquired directly from the above, 1998.
Restituted to the surviving heirs of Leo Bendel, November 2019.
H. Holland, Die Kunst dem Volke 26, Karl Spitzweg, Munich, 1916, p. 28, no. 51, illustrated.
M. von Boehn, Künstler-monographien, Carl Spitzweg, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1920, p. 37, illustrated, as Drachenbeschwörer.
F. Ostini, Aus Carl Spitzweg's Welt, 100 seiner schönsten Bilder mit Porträt und Biographie des Malers, Barmen, 1924, p. 51, illustrated, as Die Beschwörung.
W. Spitzweg, Der unbekannte Spitzweg, ein Bild aus der Welt des Biedermeier, Munich, 1958, illustrated across from p. 97.
G. Roennefahrt, Carl Spitzweg, beschreibendes Verzeichnis seiner Gemälde, Ölstudien und Aquarelle, Munich, 1960, p. 292, no. 1395, illustrated.
E. Kalkschmidt, Carl Spitzweg und Seine Welt, Munich, 1966, p. 141, no. 103, illustrated.
J. C. Jensen, Carl Spitzweg, Cologne, 1971, p. 81, pl. XVI, illustrated.
S. Wichmann, Carl Spitzweg, Munich, 1990, p. 213, no. 102, illustrated.
S. Wichmann, Carl Spitzweg, Die Skizze und das fertige Bild, Dokumentationsreihe zu den Werkverzeichnissen, Starnberg-Munich, 1995, p. 22f, Bayer, Staatsbibl. Munich, inv. no. Ana 656.83.
S. Wichmann, Carl Spitzweg, Verzeichnis der Werke, Gemälde und Aquarelle, Stuttgart, 2002, pp. 546-547, no. 1520, illustrated, as Der Hexenmeister (Zauberer und Drache).
C. Hickley, 'Dr. Oetker returns painting to heirs of Jewish tobacco dealer murdered by the Nazis,' The Art Newspaper, London, 22 November 2019, illustrated.
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Dreiundzwanzigste Sonderausstellung in der Königl. Nationalgalerie zu Berlin, Werke von Carl von Piloty, Carl Spitzweg und Friedrich Voltz, November-December 1886, p. 7, no. 3, as Zauberer und Drache.
Prague, Rudolfinum, Spitzweg-Ausstellung, 1887, no. 72.
Sale room notice
Please note that the dates for the first owner listed in the provenance should be 1836-1909.

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Lot Essay

Considered one of the most important German artists of the 19th century, Carl Spitzweg’s natural technical ability as an artist was elevated by his keen eye for the humor in the personalities and situations he encountered in his daily life. Contrary to the ideas of tranquility and petit bourgeois idyll commonly associated with the Biedermeier period, Spitzweg’s art has endured as a meaningful societal critique of his time and the society in which he lived. While Spitzweg did not actively participate in political disputes, he was an intelligent and at times caustic commentator who documented the debates and conflicts of his era through his art. Spitzweg was praised by critics during his lifetime for his innate ability bring together three seemingly contradictory qualities in his art - realism, fantasy and humor. Der Hexenmeister, painted in the last decade of the artist’s life, is a brilliant example of how the marriage of these three features reached their apex in Spitzweg’s mature work.
Spitzweg’s understanding of middle-class life and mores was likely a result of the fact that he was raised in a well-to-do family and never received formal training as an artist, only taking up painting in his mid-twenties. Originally trained as a pharmacist, he received an inheritance in 1833 which allowed him to devote himself to painting full-time from that point on. In Spitzweg’s early years, Honoré Daumier's caricatures were an important influence for him (fig. 1), particularly during the 1840s when he worked as an illustrator for the satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter. Ultimately, his mature oeuvre would come to encompass portraits, landscapes, and satirical caricatures of figures of Biedermeier life.
Spitzweg had a particular interest in the effects of moonlight on landscape, and nocturnes, often featuring a single figure, are a recurring motif in his oeuvre. His experiments in capturing moonlight were due in large part to the profound influence of the German Romantics, like Moritz von Schwind, on the artistic production in Munich at the time. Spitzweg was known to wander the streets at night seeking a direct experience of his subject matter. Like the present work, the vast majority of Spitzweg's nocturnal scenes are vertical in format, to doubly emphasize how the lines of their architectural elements create dramatic frames within the composition for action. Spitzweg’s nocturnes often have the feeling of a stage set, in which a single figure or feature is carefully picked out with a dramatic shaft of light, as he has done with the distant hilltop castle, possibly inspired by Schloss Neuschwanstein, in the present painting.
As with the artist’s best work, Der Hexenmeister combines realism in the rendering of the architecture and landscape elements, fantastic subject matter and humor, depicting a nebbish sorcerer facing off against a fearsome dragon. While at first glance the subject matter appears quite dramatic – the fiery crevasse the dragon is emerging from, the seven skulls forming a protective circle around the wizard, the dragon’s fierce expression – Spitzweg has added a number of elements to inject his typical humor into the picture as well. The wizard’s red umbrella, leaning against the rocks behind him, was a symbol commonly associated with comic operettas and traveling comedians at the time. Additionally, the upright posture and donnish attitude of the wizard, as though he is a school teacher drilling the dragon in his lessons, and the fact that he appears to have just put a sash adorned with runes on over his overcoat, all provide a wry twist to the picture’s narrative.
The S-shaped compositional arrangement, leading the viewer’s eye up along the rocky ledge in the foreground, and following the sulfurous smoke up from the dragon’s lair as it curls around the top of the distant castle is also very typical of Spitzweg. Siegfried Wichmann cites Arnold Böcklin’s Drachen in einer Felsenschlucht, which was exhibited in Munich in 1870, as a possible source for Spitzweg’s interest in this subject matter (fig. 2). Böcklin’s picture, which he painted after a treacherous Alpine crossing, is understood to represent the danger posed to humanity by nature. Wichmann suggests that Spitzweg’s more humorous take on the subject was perhaps meant to poke fun at mystical subject matter favored by the Symbolist painters, though Ursula Seibold-Bultmann has also suggested this subject was meant to satirize the enthusiasm for Wagner at the court of Ludwig II during Spitzweg's lifetime. Spitzweg painted this subject three times – once as a compositional oil sketch and twice as a finished composition. Of the three versions, the present work is the largest. The other finished composition is now located in the Georg Schäfer Museum in Schweinfurt, and complicates the reading of the present composition as a nocturne, with the background castle in that work clearly set against a much brighter blue sky with white clouds.

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