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Wilhelm Busch

Waldlandschaft mit Hirten und zwei Kühen (Wooded Landscape with Cowherd and Two Cows)

Oil on paper mounted on wood

Verso: glued-on label confirming the provenance of the Nöldeke family, 1928, Bangel No. 1113/234

Wilhelm Busch’s success as a writer of humorous verse, graphic artist and caricaturist tends to obscure the importance of painting both to his life’s work and to him personally. His first nature studies date from the mid-nineteenth century, but neither them nor subsequent paintings brought him the recognition he longed for. By the 1860s, Busch was so dogged by self-doubt and disappointment that he decided to scale back his work as a painter. His illustrated verse tales of Max and Moritz, the children’s book for which he is most famous, also date from this period.1 Later in the decade he moved to Frankfurt to be with his brother Otto, who worked as a house tutor for the banker Johann Daniel Heinrich Kessler and his art-loving wife Johanna. It was above all this contact to the Kesslers, who became life-long friends,2 that encouraged Wilhelm to take up painting again. His critical engagement with Frankfurt artists such as Peter Burnitz, Victor Müller and Otto Scholderer would also prove fruitful,3 since it was through them and their ties to the Barbizon School and Gustave Courbet4 that he learned about the new French approach to landscape painting. These influences confirmed Busch in his own understanding of the genre.5 In 1877, however, with commercial success as a painter still eluding him, he felt bound to conclude that his spontaneous and sketchy style would never win him any critical acclaim. Fortunately, the financial independence assured him by his life-long contract with Bassermann Verlag of 1871 had freed him of all art market constraints,6 so that on returning to his native Wiedensahl in the 1880s, he was able to spend more and more of his time painting, even if purely as a private pursuit. Turning his back on the genre scenes and interiors that he had previously been fond of, he now turned his attention to landscape painting. Our work is one of many small-format paintings that mark Busch’s most productive phase as a painter and depict the countryside he grew up in.7 Captured in very vigorous brushstrokes is an area of woodland in which warm, earthy hues are confidently combined with muted greens and blues. The two cows blend in harmoniously with their natural surroundings, and at the foot of the tree leaning into the composition is a cowherd clad in the red jacket that would become a signature motif of Busch’s late works. As much as we might wish that Busch had won the recognition he craved for his painted oeuvre during his own lifetime, it was that same lack of success that freed him from any compulsion to adapt to the prevailing taste and hence enabled him to create the unique pictorial world so cherished by today’s collectors.

  1. Hans Georg Gmelin, Wilhelm Busch als Maler. Mit einem vollständigen Werkverzeichnis nach Vorarbeiten von Reinhold Behrens, Berlin 1980, p. 49

  2. Ibid., p. 58.

  3. Peter Burnitz (1824–1886); Victor Müller (1830–1871) was a close friend of Courbet and brother-in-law of Otto Scholderer (1834–1902), who likewise had excellent contacts in France.

  4. Gustave Courbet (1819–1877).

  5. Gmelin 1980, p. 78.

  6. Ibid., p. 144.

  7. Ibid., p. 141.

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