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Viktor Müller

* 1829 – † 1871

Zweirädriger Karren von einem Schimmel gezogen in einer stürmischen Landschaft (Two-Wheeled Cart Pulled by a White Horse in a Stormy Landscape)

Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard

Monogrammed at bottom right: V M

Victor Müller, a Frankfurt native, began his academic training in 1845 when he enrolled at the Städelsche Kunstinstitut and later went to Antwerp to study at its renowned art academy, too. The young artist was especially taken with Flemish painting and artists such as Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens,1 which in Antwerp he was able to study in great depth. Another important influence on Müller’s development was his stay in Paris from 1851–1858, where he succeeded in having himself taken on as a pupil2 in the studio of Thomas Couture.3 It was during this period that he became close to Gustave Courbet,4 whose Le Réalisme pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855 caused quite a stir. The two artists’ enthusiastic exchange of experience and ideas continued even after Müller’s return to Frankfurt in 1858, that being the year in which Courbet himself spent several months in the German city.5 Starting in the early 1860s, a certain artistic maturity becomes evident in Müller’s work. This is also reflected in his striving for a special kind of impasto technique, in which the subject of the work takes second place to the painting itself. Evelyn Lehmann, author of the catalogue raisonné, describes this as “poetic realism”6 and dates the work under discussion here to the time prior to Müller’s move to Munich in 1865. The painting shows a boy leading a white horse across rain-sodden terrain. The beast is pulling a heavy cart with two women sitting on it. Modelled in a range of earthy hues and bathed in a mixture of light and shade, the ground under the horse’s moving legs seems almost to be vibrating. Meanwhile, the wheels of the cart have sunk into the wet earth as if entering into an unintended symbiosis with it, supplying graphic proof of the impassability of the terrain. Arching over the gloomy landscape is a sky streaked with lowering rain clouds. The influence of Courbet is palpably present not only in Müller’s purely painterly reproduction of colour, but also in his subject, which is the hardships faced by the rural population. The quality of the painting was apparent not just to Peter Burnitz,7 the friend to whom the artist gave this work as a gift, but also to Ottilie Roederstein,8 who since she placed the winning bid for it at the auction of the Burnitz estate in 1914 must also have admired it.

  1. Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Anthonis van Dyck (1599–1641) and Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678).

  2. Victor Müller. Gemälde und Zeichnungen, exh. cat. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie Frankfurt am Main 1973, Frankfurt 1973, p. 3.

  3. Thomas Couture (1815–1879) was a teacher whose pupils included Édouard Manet (1832–1883) and Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880).

  4. Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) is widely regarded as the pioneer of realism in nineteenth-century painting.

  5. Kunstlandschaft Rhein-Main. Malerei im 19. Jahrhundert 1806–1866, exh. cat. Haus Giersch Frankfurt 2001, Frankfurt 2001, p. 176.

  6. Lehmann, Evelyn, Der Frankfurter Maler Victor Müller 1830–1871, Frankfurt am Main 1976, p. 208.

  7. Peter Burnitz (1824–1886).

  8. Ottilie Wilhelmine Roedersten (1859–1937).

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