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Otto Scholderer

Stillleben mit kupferner Schale mit Äpfeln und Trauben (Still Life with Copper Bowl, Apples and Grapes), 1892

Oil on canvas

Signed and dated at top left: Otto Scholderer 1892

Otto Scholderer’s oeuvre comprises portraits and genre scenes, landscapes and still lifes.1 A native of Frankfurt am Main, the artist was shaped first by his teachers at the Städelschule, followed by his brother-in-law Victor Müller and Müller’s friend Gustave Courbet.2 Scholderer left the formerly independent city of Frankfurt after Prussia annexed it and spent most of his life elsewhere – a few years in Düsseldorf, brief sojourns in both Munich and Paris and twenty-eight years in London – before returning just three years before his death. It was above all while living abroad that Scholderer came into contact with the leading art scenes of the day as well as celebrated painters and a high-calibre clientele, thanks to which he was able to live from his work as a professional artist. Of course this also obliged him to cater to the local demand, which in London, especially, entailed painting some very fine portraits and giving painting lessons to members of the upper classes.

Notwithstanding the economic and artistic constraints, Scholderer had long cherished a fondness for still-life painting and became adept at working miniature still lifes into his portraits and genre scenes by way of an incidental “appendage.” Yet it was not until the early 1890s, and hence after the overhaul of the academic hierarchy of genres, that his still-life paintings of fruits, animals and flowers came to be widely appreciated, the demand for such works being especially pronounced in his native Frankfurt.3 From the early still lifes reflecting the influence of Courbet to those of his middle phase in the tradition of the great French still-life painters Jean Siméon Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Scholderer developed an astounding painterly virtuosity, inspired and driven by his friendship with fellow painter Henri Fantin-Latour.4 His late still lifes of the 1890s show him selecting simple arrangements, which through his meticulous attention to material textures he elevates to a veritable feast for the eyes. This is certainly true of the oil pinting Still Life with Copper Bowl, Apples and Grapes of 1892, which in the 1902 catalogue of Scholderer’s estate was hailed as “one of the artist’s finest still lifes.”5

Arranged on a slab of black marble are a copper bowl containing dark grapes, a single bright red apple and several other sorts and sizes of apple, whose surfaces with their finely nuanced colours are staged as a painterly event.6 The dark, but subtly painted backdrop against which these objects are depicted serves to focus our gaze on the “stage” that occupies barely half the canvas and ends abruptly with the front edge of the stone slab in the foreground. The work does not follow the academic rules, according to which the viewer’s gaze should be drawn into the painting, but instead insists on a pictorial reality that is clearly set apart from the space occupied by the beholder.7 By deliberately establishing a distance between us and his still life, Scholderer effectively puts the fruits beyond our reach, that is, beyond any all too obvious notion of our being able to reach out and touch them or even consume them. Instead, he presents them as artefacts, as part of a reality that lives from its highly artificial treatment of objects, their arrangement, their modelling and their textures. What matters above all else is the artist’s handling of light. The finely differentiated fall of light in relation to the spatial situation and the objects within it attests to Scholderer’s gift for acute observation and a high degree of painterly accomplishment; or, to be more precise, to a magisterial painting culture that reaches its apogee in the brilliantly rendered reflections of the apples in the shiny black marble and in the outside wall of the copper bowl. Scholderer treats the light streaming in from top left as neither spectacular nor speculative, but uses a broad spectrum of light and shade to tease out the shapes and colours of the many different motifs and to combine these in a larger compositional whole. Depending on how aborbent their surfaces are, the objects react differently to the intense light, whether by glowing, glinting or shimmering.8 Here, the realist’s insistence on painting only what is seen joins forces with the naturalist’s aspiration to capture the materiality of things and the Impressionist’s fascination with reproducing the interaction of object and light at any given instant. As a result of Scholderer’s handling of light and colour, the line cedes its role as the defining element to an atmospheric space-object continuum, in which softly outlined things become one with the space enveloping them, dissolving into light and colour.

Scholderer’s awareness of the progressive strivings of the various artistic tendencies of the late nineteenth century prevented him from ever descending into a reductive concentration on the one or the other stylistic direction. Endowed with an eye schooled on the Old Masters in Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Paris and London, with fine feelers for both the details and the overall impression of surface textures and with an intuitive appreciation of light and colour, he developed an unmistakable, individual hand, which far from negating tradition, perpetuated and elevated it to a contemporary level. In this sense, therefore, Scholderer ranks not only among the great still-life painters of his age but also among the great moderns.

  1. The key work here is Jutta Bagdahn, Otto Scholderer 1834–1902. Monographie und Werkverzeichnis, Berlin 2020 (= Diss. Albert-Ludwig-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau 2002).

  2. Victor Müller (1830–1871) and Gustave Courbet (1819–1877).

  3. Bagdahn 2020 (see note 1), pp. 161–162.

  4. Jean Siméon Chardin (1699 – 1779), Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755) and Ignace Henri Jean Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836–1904).

  5. “Katalog des künstlerischen Nachlasses enthaltend 116 Werke eigener Hand des am 23. Januar 1902 zu Frankfurt verstorbenen Malers Otto Scholderer,” auction in Frankfurt am Main held at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday 29 April 1902 at the premises of the Frankfurter Kunstvereins, Junghofstrasse 8, Frankfurt am Main 1902, p. 13, No. 40.

  6. The title of the work used in Friedrich Herbst, Otto Scholderer. Ein Beitrag zur Künstler- und Kunstgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, Frankfurt am Main 1934, p. 63, No. 178, Stilleben mit Trauben und Äpfeln in Kupfergefäß und umhergestreuten Äpfeln (Still life with grapes and apples in a copper vessel and scattered apples) runs counter to the idea that the arrangement was deliberately chosen for visual effect, but was adopted by most subsequent publications nonetheless. Scholderer, however, did not set out to create an impression of “scattered apples,” his true intention being much more accurately reflected in the title used in the catalogue of his estate: Stillleben. Auf dunkler Platte sind vor einem Trauben und einen Apfel enthaltenden Kupfergefäß Aepfel der verschiedensten Art malerisch gruppiert (Still life. Painterly grouping on a dark slab of all sorts of apples in front of a copper vessel containing grapes and an apple); cf. “Katalog des künstlerischen Nachlasses,” (see note 5).

  7. The fact that the reproduction of this work in August Wiederspahn and Helmut Bode, Die Kronberger Malerkolonie. Ein Beitrag zur Frankfurter Kunstgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, 3rd ed. Frankfurt am Main 1982, illus. p. 139 is cut off along the lower edge does much to distort Scholderer’s original intentions.

  8. Cf. Bagdahn 2020 (see note 1), p. 162.

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