Old masters give us hope and comfort more than ever: Discover the Princely Collections in a new way.
Hope is more important than ever in these difficult times. As a counterweight to fear and uncertainty, we need confidence and trust in the future and thus in better times – confidence in an end to winter and a new spring. No painting in the Princely Collections shows the beauty of the longed-for rebirth more aptly than Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller's "Revival to New Life" (1852).
An old man steps out of his house, blinded by the light of the first bright spring day. A long winter has come to an end. Confined to the house, ailing and perhaps even unable to leave his bed, he has had to wait patiently for this moment, which he now experiences with his family – his wife stands behind him – in amazement. He has been given the possibility to once again enjoy the warm rays of the sun and witness the magic of the clear spring light. He has been granted the gift of a new spring, which will hopefully not be his last.
Here, Waldmüller captures on canvas a number of his major themes as a painter. One of these is the life of the simple peasant, a motif that he painted time and time again in different variations. He considered farmers to be generally happy people – people who made the most of their lives within the modest existence given to them and who appeared to enjoy it without any limitations. He pushes far into the background any social criticism of the less than rosy conditions in which the farmers and craftsmen lived during this time. The girls and boys do not evince any of the hardship experienced across the nation during that time.
Although the majority of farmers suffered from undernourishment and symptoms of malnutrition, Waldmüller depicts the exact opposite in his painting. He presents us with healthy, well-fed faces, comparable to those seen in any commercial today. To continue with this comparison, Waldmüller immerses the entire scene in an almost cinematic light – a light that not only illuminates the people, their appearance and their physiques, but also the ground, the façade of the house, the trees as well as the landscape in the background and gives everything in the painting an almost magical, completely new life. The budding tree in the center becomes the tree of life, symbolizing the eternal cycle of fertility and thus the future of all living things. Even the wall of the house, with its well-aged surface, plays its part in this concert of the living.
Waldmüller’s idealization long confined him to the role of a “blood and soil” artist. The acclaim he enjoyed during the Third Reich in particular relegated his work to a genre that was completely misplaced. During this time, his paintings became synonymous with a Germanic peasant people bursting with health. His subjects became synonyms of the empty promises of health and social services that were made to the indiscriminate general population.
One of the most important aspects of Waldmüller's work, which also plays a dominant role in this painting, is his use of light. As if in the knowledge that light plays an important role in the psyche, he makes it the conduit for the motif of this painting.
In Waldmüller’s paintings, light represents a key moment and as such, not only conveys mood, but more importantly also meaning, and is often the primary subject matter. He was the first in Vienna to go out of doors to capture the power of the sun and the magic of the myriad of different moods created by light, and to reproduce them directly on canvas. In this painting, the study of light becomes the actual subject matter: he renders light a symbol of life, a parable for health that is brimming with vigor. This unrestrained, ever-recurring force once again penetrates the old man's bones and enables him to step through the front door of the house as a luminous figure.
Genre painting reached its peak around the middle of the 19th century, when artists such as Waldmüller and Gauermann skillfully combined portraits and landscapes with events, thus creating a vividness that had not been seen before. By addressing social realities, the next generation of painters therefore introduced an entirely new facet. Even the conservative imperial house recognized the important works created during this period. At the Academy's exhibition in 1844, where the first version of Revival to New Life met with great praise, it was referred to as the property of “His Imperial Highness the Most Serene Archduke Franz Karl”.
Image: LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna
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