Goya, Daumier, Toulouse-Lautrec - three artists from three generations, united by the critical gaze they directed at their contemporaries. Their works were among the cornerstones of the legendary collection of the Berlin insurance company director Otto Gerstenberg (1848-1935). Thanks to the work of a team of researchers, it has now been possible to reconstruct the historical collection. The Nationalgalerie is holding an exhibition at the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg to coincide with the publication of their research findings.
Spread over twelve chapters, the exhibition presents impressive etchings by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), caricature drawings, paintings and the famous busts of parliamentarians by Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), as well as a selection of the most beautiful lithographs by
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Documentary material on Otto Gerstenberg's historical collection is also woven into the exhibition, accompanying the artworks on display.
The focus these artists all share in their work on the glittering and dark sides of society also drew them to the medium of printmaking. As a result, the sharp contrasts in Goya's etchings find their echo in both Daumier's caricatures and Toulouse-Lautrec's depictions of the stage with their rich visual effects that continue to shape our image of Parisian nightlife in the fin de siècle.
All three artists adopt in their work the eccentric perspective of an outsider. Goya, for instance, who had worked his way up from the son of a gilder to official painter to the Spanish court but who ended his life in exile, was interested in the at times grotesque social conditions that prevailed during the Peninsular War. As a freelance artist, Daumier was even prepared to suffer a prison sentence for his caricatures that paid homage to the bourgeois ideals of the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. And a generation later, Toulouse-Lautrec, who came from an aristocratic family in southern France, became an observer of a bourgeoisie that had since slid into a state of decadence.
In each case, the eccentric gaze of these three artists was the result of different sets of circumstance, nevertheless they bear startling similarities to each other. Their works are always primarily concerned with the relationship between the individual and society. Goya, Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec show how men and women present themselves in public, how their need for ostentation can be impressive, as well as comical or ridiculous. They also depict the individual left to his own resources: his sense of security in the private domain, but also his loneliness.
A richly illustrated, two-volume publication on Gerstenberg's historical collection is due for release by Hatje Cantz, edited by Julietta Scharf, Hanna Strzoda and Janina Dahlmanns. It contains essays by Götz Adriani, Werner Hofmann, Claude Keisch, Juliet Wilson-Bareau and several other notable authors, as well as a complete collection inventory.
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