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WILHELM VON KAULBACH (1805-1874)

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Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 700 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILHELM VON KAULBACH (1805-1874), German painter, was born in Westphalia on the 15th of October 18o5. His father, who was poor, combined painting with the goldsmith's trade, but means were found to place Wilhelm, a youth of seventeen, in the art academy of Dusseldorf, then becoming renowned under the directorship of Peter von Cornelius. Young Kaulbach con-tended against hardships, even hunger. But his courage never failed; and, uniting genius with industry, he was ere long fore-most among the young national party which sought to revive the arts of Germany. The ambitious work by which Louis I. sought to transform Munich into a German Athens afforded the young painter an appropriate sphere. Cornelius had been commissioned to execute the enormous frescoes in the Glyptothek, and his custom was in the winters, with the aid of Kaulbach and others, to complete the cartoons at Dusseldorf, and in the summers, accompanied by his best scholars, to carry out the designs in colour on the museum walls in Munich. But in 1824 Cornelius became director of the Bavarian academy. Kaulbach, not yet twenty, followed, took up his permanent residence in Munich, laboured hard on the public works, executed independent commissions, and in 1849, when Cornelius left for Berlin, succeeded to the directorship of the academy, an office which he held till his death on the 7th of April 1874. His son Hermann (1846-1909) also became a distinguished painter. Kaulbach matured, after the example of the masters of the Middle Ages, the practice of mural or monumental decoration; he once more conjoined painting with architecture, and displayed a creative fertility and readiness of resource scarcely found since the era of Raphael and Michelangelo. Early in the series of his multitudinous works came the famous Narrenhaus, the appalling memories of a certain madhouse near Dusseldorf; the composition all the more deserves mention for points of contact with Hogarth. Somewhat to the same category belong the illustrations to Reineke Fuchs. These, together with occasional figures or passages in complex pictorial dramas, show how dominant and irrepressible were the artist's sense of satire and enjoyment of fun; character in its breadth and sharpness is depicted with keenest relish, and at times the sardonic smile bursts into the loudest laugh. Thus occasionally the grotesque degenerates into the vulgar, the grand into the ridiculous, as in the satire on " the Pigtail Age " in a fresco outside the New Pinakothek. Yet these exceptional extravagances came not of weakness but from excess of power. Kaulbach tried hard to become Grecian and Italian; but he never reached Phidias or Raphael; in short the blood of Diirer, Holbein and Martin Schongauer ran strong in his veins. The art products in Munich during the middle of the 19th century were of a quantity to preclude first-rate quality, and Kaulbach contracted a fatal facility in covering wall and canvas by the acre. He painted in the Hofgarten, the Odeon, the Palace and on the external walls of the New Pinakothek. His perspicuous and showy manner also gained him abundant occupation as a book illustrator: in the pages of the poets his fancy revelled; he was glad to take inspiration from Wieland, Goethe, even Klopstock; among his engraved designs are the Shakespeare gallery, the Goethe gallery and a folio edition of the Gospels. With regard to these examples of " the Munich school," it was asserted that Kaulbach had been unfortunate alike in having found Cornelius for a master and King Louis for a patron, that he attempted " subjects far beyond him, believing that his admiration for them was the same as inspiration "; and supplied the lack of real imagination by " a compound of intellect and fancy." Nevertheless in such compositions as the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Battle of the Huns Kaulbach shows creative imagination. As a dramatic poet he tells the story, depicts character, seizes on action and situation, and thus as it were takes the spectator by storm. The manner may be occasionally noisy and ranting, but the effect after its kind is tremendous. The cartoon, which, as usual in modern German art, is superior to the ultimate picture, was executed in the artist's prime at the age of thirty. At this period, as here seen, the knowledge was little short of absolute; subtle is the sense of beauty; playful, delicate, firm the touch; the whole treatment artistic. Ten or more years were devoted to what the Germans term a " cyclus "—a series of pictures depicting the Tower of Babel, the Age of Homer, the Destruction of Jerusalem, the Battle of the Huns, the Crusades and the Reformation. These major tableaux, severally 3o ft. long, and each comprising over one hundred figures above life-size, are surrounded by minor compositions making more than twenty in all. The idea is to congregate around the world's historic dramas the prime agents of civilization; thus here are assembled allegoric figures of Architecture and other arts, of Science and other kingdoms of know-ledge, together with lawgivers from the time of Moses, not for-getting Frederick the Great. .The chosen situation for this imposing didactic and theatric display is the Treppenhaus or grand staircase in the new museum, Berlin; the surface is a granulated, absorbent wall, specially prepared; the technical method is that known as " water-glass," or " liquid flint," the infusion of silica securing permanence. The same medium was adopted in the later wall-pictures in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster. The painter's last period brings no new departure; his ultimate works stand conspicuous by exaggerations of early characteristics. The series of designs illustrative of Goethe, which had an immense success, were melodramatic and pandered to popular taste. The vast canvas, more than 30 ft. long, the Sea Fight at Salamis, painted for the Maximilianeum, Munich, evinces wonted imagination and facility in composition; the handling also retains its largeness and vigour; but in this astounding scenic uproar moderation and the simplicity of nature are thrown to the winds, and the whole atmosphere is hot and feverish. Kaulbach's was a beauty-loving art. He is not supreme as a colourist; he belongs in fact to a school that holds colour in sub-ordination; but he laid, in common with the great masters, the sure foundation of his art in form and composition. Indeed, the science of composition has seldom if ever been so clearly understood or worked out with equal complexity and exactitude; the constituent lines, the relation of the parts to the whole, are brought into absolute agreement; in modern Germany painting and music have trodden parallel paths, and Kaulbach is musical in the melody and harmony of his compositions. His narrative too is lucid, and moves as a stately march or royal triumph; the sequence of the figures is unbroken; the arrangement of the groups accords with even literary form; the picture falls into incident, episode, dialogue, action, plot, as a drama. The style is eclectic; in the Age of Homer the types and the treatment are derived from Greek marbles and vases; then in the Tower of Babel the severity of the antique gives place to the suavity of the Italian renaissance; while in the Crusades the composition is let loose into modern romanticism, and so the manner descends into the midst of the 19th century. And yet this scholastically compounded art is so nicely adjusted and smoothly blended that it casts off all incongruity and becomes homogeneous as the issue of one mind. But a fickle public craved for change; and so the great master in later years waned in favour, and had to witness, not without inquietude, the rise of an opposing party of naturalism and realism. (J. B. A.) KAUNITZ-RIETBURG, WENZEL ANTON, PRINCE VON (1711-1794), Austrian chancellor and diplomatist, was born at Vienna on the 2nd of February 1711. His father, Max Ulrich,was the third count of Kaunitz, and married an heiress, Maria Ernestine Franziska von Rietburg. The family was ancient, and was believed to have been of Slavonic origin in Moravia. Wenzel Anton. being a second son, was designed for the church, but on the death of his elder brother he was trained for the law and for diplomacy, at Vienna, Leipzig and Leiden, and by travel. Hisfamily had served the Habsburgs with some distinction, and Kaunitz had no difficulty in obtaining employment. In 1735 he was a Reichshofrath. When the Emperor Charles VI. died in 1740, he is said to have hesitated before deciding to support Maria Theresa. If so, his hesitation did not last long, and left no trace on his loyalty. From 1742 to 1744 he was minister at Turin, and in the latter year was sent as minister with the Arch-duke Charles of Lorraine, the governor of Belgium. He was therefore an eye-witness of the campaigns in which Marshal Saxe overran Belgium. At this time he was extremely discouraged, and sought for his recall. But he had earned the approval of Maria Theresa, who sent him as representative of Austria to the peace congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. His tenacity and dexterity established his reputation as a diplomatist. He con-firmed his hold on the regard and confidence of the empress by the line he took after the conclusion of the peace. In 1749 Maria Theresa appealed to all her counsellors for advice as to the policy Austria ought to pursue in view of the changed conditions produced by the rise of Prussia. The great majority of them, including her husband Francis I., were of opinion that the old alliance with the sea Powers, England and Holland, should be maintained. Kaunitz, either because he was really persuaded that the old policy must be given up, or because he saw that the dominating idea in the mind of Maria Theresa was the recovery of Silesia, gave it as his opinion that Frederick was now the "most wicked and dangerous enemy of Austria," that it was hopeless to expect the support of Protestant nations against him, and that the only way of recovering Silesia was by an alliance with Russia and France. The empress eagerly accepted views which were already her own, and entrusted the adviser with the execution of his own plans. An ambassador to France from 1750 to 1752, and after 1753 as " house, court and state chancellor," Kaunitz laboured successfully to bring about the alliance which led to the Seven Years' War. It was considered a great feat of diplomacy, and established Kaunitz as the recognized master of the art. His triumph was won in spite of personal defects and absurdities which would have ruined most men. Kaunitz had manias rarely found in company with absolute sanity. He would not hear of death, nor approach a sick man. He refused to visit his dying master Joseph II. for two whole years. He would not breathe fresh air. On the warmest summer day he kept a handkerchief over his mouth when out of doors, and his only exercise was riding under glass, which he did every morning for exactly the same number of minutes. He relaxed from his work in the company of a small dependent society of sycophants and buffoons. He was consumed by a solemn, garrulous and pedantic vanity. When in 1770 he met Frederick the Great at 1Vlahrisch-Neustadt, he came with a summary of political principles, which he called a catechism, in his pocket, and assured the king that he must be allowed to speak without interruption. When Frederick, whose interest it was to humour him, promised to listen quietly, Kaunitz rolled his mind out for two hours, and went away with the firm conviction that he had at last enlightened the inferior intellect of the king of Prussia as to what politics really were. Within a very short time Frederick had completely deceived and out-manoeuvred him. With all his pomposity and conceit, Kaunitz was astute, he was laborious and orderly; when his advice was not taken he would carry out the wishes of his masters, while no defeat ever damped his pertinacity. To tell his history from 1750 till his retirement in 1792 would be to tell part of the internal history of Austria, and all the inter-national politics of eastern and central Europe. His governing principle was to forward the interests of " the august house of Austria," a phrase sometimes repeated at every few lines of his despatches. In internal affairs he in 1758 recommended, and helped to promote, a simplification of the confused and sub-divided Austrian administration. But his main concern was always with diplomacy and foreign policy. Here he strove with untiring energy, and no small measure of success, to extend the Austrian dominions. After the Seven Years' War he endeavoured to avoid great risks, and sought to secure his ends by alliances, exchanges and claims professing to have a legal basis, and justified at enormous length by arguments both pedantic and hypocritical. The French Revolution had begun to alter all the relations of the Powers before his retirement. He never understood its full meaning. Yet the circular despatch which he addressed to the ambassadors of the emperor on the 17th of July 1794 contains the first outlines of Metternich's policy of " legitimacy," and the first proposal for the combined action of the powers, based on the full recognition of one another's rights, to defend themselves against subversive principles. Kaunitz died at his house, the Garten Palast, near Vienna, on the 27th of June 1794. He married on the 6th of May 1736, Maria Ernestine von Starhemberg, who died on the 6th of September 1754. Four sons were born of the marriage. See Hormayr, Oesterreichischer Plutarch (Vienna, 1823), for a biographical sketch based on personal knowledge. Also see Brunner, Joseph II.: Correspondance avec Cobenzl et Kaunitz (Mayence, 1871); A. Beer, Joseph II., Leopold II. and Kaunitz (Vienna, 1873).
End of Article: WILHELM VON KAULBACH (1805-1874)
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