Carl Spitzweg

The antiquarian (Book seller – The antiquarian and two girls)


Roennefahrt 1356; Wichmann 329.


Carl Spitzweg is a great humanitarian – we all admire his lovingly observed city dwellers as they go about their oftentimes eccentric activities: there is the butterfly hunter, the alchemist bent over a glass ball, the geologist, the mocked Sunday hunter, the quirky cactus lover, the bookworm standing on a ladder in his library, engrossed in a book. Spitzweg repeatedly depicted readers or people who are absorbed in books, such as librarians, writers or scientists. Books and reading in general were highly emotional topics for Spitzweg – in his most famous painting, too, the poor poet is shown reading in his sparse attic. The artist worked during a time in which a reading public was developing, in which compulsory schooling made it possible for young people to learn to read, and in which lending libraries provided access to entertaining literature. Being a writer or journalist became a recognised profession. Women like Rahel Varnhagen, Dorothea Schlegel and Henriette Herz were already organising literary salons at the beginning of the 19th century, the genres of youth and adventure literature emerged, and the numerous newspapers that now appeared daily promised participation in the world. The importance that reading had in the formation of civil society cannot be underestimated. It meant education, and was thus capable of dissolving class boundaries. The education that reading provided also encouraged the demand for Égalité, one of the three precepts of the French Revolution, to achieve a breakthrough in Germany. It was not only libraries that played an important role in mediating literature, but also antiquarian bookstores, which experienced their first heyday during this time. In Spitzweg’s work, the antiquarian has set up his stand under the open sky in a small square in a town with winding roads – only a tarpaulin provides shade. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the bouquinists in Paris, who to this day still open their small book stalls on the Seine every day to offer their wares. In the present picture, the somewhat older antiquarian is sitting with his legs crossed on his chair, wearing a jacket that has already gone out of fashion and a peaked cap on his head, which not only protects him from the incoming sunlight, but also provides him with an air of erudition. Next to him is his stand, on which a few books are lined up in the shade – as well as on the opposite on the wall of the house, where the spines of the books shine brightly in the sunlight. There appear to be old engravings hanging over the edge of the table, as well as folios leaning against the wall of the house, onto which the antiquarian has also pinned two engravings: on the left, one probably based on Claude Lorrain’s famous “Liber Veritatis”, in which he collected his compositions, and on the right, a shameless reproduction of Spitzweg’s “Bookworm”. The books on offer no longer seem to be in the best condition, giving the impression that the antiquarian’s best days are already behind him. Thus he sits, reading glasses on his round nose, engrossed in his book, without noticing how the world is passing him by. In the shadow of a narrow alley, two young women dressed in the latest fashion are climbing some steps – they have just passed by the antiquarian’s stand, but he didn’t notice them. One could interpret the painting as a warning that life passes you by if you become all to absorbed in one passion. It is possible that this was a reflection on Spitzweg’s own biography – like the antiquarian, Spitzweg was also blessed with a striking nose and wore glasses. The proud reproduction of his own painting on the wall of the house may also point to this conclusion, especially since Spitzweg also had a large stock of paintings in his studio, which sold only slowly. These included the antiquarian, which was probably created around 1850/60, but was only sold much later. The question of whether Spitzweg really saw himself in the antiquarian, whom life passes by, is an interesting one to ponder. Spitzweg prepared the painting with unusual meticulousness – there are numerous drawings that show detailed studies, including of the antiquarian himself. “Everyone has his throne,” is the inscription on the preparatory study (Hannover, Lower Saxony State Museum, inv. no. G 1916/1) – is the somewhat other-worldly antiquarian “enthroned” in front of his goods while life passes him by? Is Spitzweg’s work suggesting that he no longer leaves the ivory tower of painting, or that he sees himself as an observer – looking in from the outside rather than being a part of life? Is he, like the antiquarian, removed from the world? Spitzweg relies on a tried and tested compositional scheme in this painting, namely a small square in a medieval town with narrow, shadowy streets that offer a view onto the blue sky in the distance. He also preceded this painting with a small oil study, so as to test its effect, which only appeared again on the market last year at Neumeister in Munich in 2022 (Neumeister, Munich, auction March 31, 2022, lot 337). Spitzweg then painted the present work, which Siegfried Wichmann, the author of Spitzweg’s catalogue raisonné of paintings, mistakenly presumed existed in two versions. According to the list of paintings kept by Spitzweg (No. 263), this work was only sold in 1870 together with a cactus lover and a postman to August Humpelmayr, who had bought the Galerie Wimmer in 1859 and was active as an art dealer worldwide. He opened up new markets for the gallery, which was now called Galerie Wimmer & Co, especially to England and the USA, where he opened branches. This is relevant for our painting because it bears the stamp “Wimmer & Co Gallery of Fine Arts Munich” on the back of the canvas, which comes from the A. Schutzmann painting canvas factory located at Bayerstrasse 95. This label was only affixed to a painting if it was intended for sale in the United States. It is likely that the work was sold to an unknown Spitzweg connoisseur in the USA, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was apparently owned by Major General Carl Loreck, who loaned it to the memorial exhibition at the Kunstverein. Afterwards, traces of the painting were lost until it resurfaced again in 1982 at Koller in Zurich, where it was acquired by Max König for his collection. Dr. Peter Prange

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