oil on paper on cardboard
This is a study for what has become one of Germany's most famous and popular paintings, "Der Arme Poet". It depicts an impoverished poet writing in a cold attic under the shelter of his umbrella which protects him from a leaky roof. It exemplifies a romanticized movement of genre painting which embodied values strongly associated with the Biedermeier era. The image quickly attracted popular attention and still resonates with a contemporary audience.
According to Wickmann (see Literature), the present work is a preliminary study painted circa 1837 for Spitzweg's two versions of the subject, both completed in 1839. One is now the Neue Pinakothek, Munich (inv. No. 7751, Fig. 1). The second version was formerly in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin (inv. no. 1118) until it was famously stolen in 1976. On that occasion, the painting was returned after only a few hours. Following this, the Berlin version was moved to Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, until it was stolen again in 1989, together with another picture by Spitzweg entitled The Love Letter. Both pictures are still missing today.
Spitzweg here offers a sparse composition in relation to his more finished, and fully realized versions. Comparing this study with the Munich canvas (see fig. 1), variations are clearly noticeable: in the present work, on the left side of the room, the coat, the pot next to the stove, the cane, and the newspaper bundles are missing. His blanket covers the mattress which is visible in the Munich picture. On the floor next to him the poet has fewer books and the box at his side is missing; Spitzweg also omitted the eye mask on the wall next to him. It is less crowded than the two finished versions. The rapidity with which it is executed is particularly striking; it is painted in an unusually spontaneous manner for the artist whose work is usually characterized by an incredible attention to detail. Spitzweg addressed his iconic composition in the present oil in a much rawer and more minimalist manner.
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