PROPERTY OF A GERMAN PRIVATE COLLECTOR LUDWIG KNAUS GERMAN, 1829-1910 DER TASCHENSPIELER IN DER SCHEUNE (THE CONJUROR IN THE BARN)
signed and dated L. Knaus. / 1862 l.l.
oil on canvas
Sale: Lempertz, Cologne, 20 November 1975, lot 454
Purchased at the above sale by the family of the present owner; thence by descent
Berlin, Sachsens Salon, 1865
Düsseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Gedächtnis-Ausstellung Ludwig Knaus, veranstaltet zum bevorstehenden 100. Geburtstag des Künstlers, 1929, no. 20
Wiesbaden, Museum Wiesbaden; Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen; Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Ludwig Knaus, 1979-80, no. 67 (illustrated on the cover of the catalogue, and as colour plate VII)
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
Karl Frenzel, Büsten und Bilder, Studien, Hanover, 1864, p. 19
Adolf Rosenberg, Aus der Düsseldorfer Malerschule, Leipzig 1889, p. 51
Friedrich von Boetticher, Malerwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts, vol. I, pt. 2, Dresden 1895, p. 707, no. 35
Ludwig Pietsch, Knaus, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1896, p. 20
Friedrich Schaarschmidt, Zur Geschichte der Düsseldorfer Kunst, insbesondere im 19. Jahrhundert, Düsseldorf 1902, p. 250
Carl Bantzer, 'Die Maler der Schwalm', in Hessen in der deutschen Malerei, Marburg, 1950, p. 30
Ute Immel, Die deutsche Genremalerei im 19. Jahrhundert, dissertation, Heidelberg, 1967, p. 297
Theodor Fontane, Aufsätze zur bildenden Kunst, published by Rainer Bachmann and Edgar Gross, pt. 1, Munich, 1970, p. 323
Menzel der Beobachter (exhib. cat.), Hamburger Kunsthalle, 1982, p. 24, mentioned and illustrated
Lajos Végvári, Mihály Munkácsy, Budapest 1983, p. 18, mentioned, p. 19, illustrated
The Conjuror is among the most important and ambitious of Knaus's compositions, inspired by village life in Willingshausen in the Schwalm valley in Hessen. Knaus had first visited the village, popular with artists, in 1849, becoming over the years a welcome guest of the community and immersing himself in its life and festivities. Here, he records an evening's entertainment provided by an itinerant conjuror, whose hat trick has his audience astonished and enthralled.
The Conjuror was applauded by the critics, and was described by novelist Theodor Fontane, who saw it when it was exhibited in Berlin in 1865, as 'ersten Ranges - auch unter den Werken dieses Meisters eines der vorzüglichsten, wenn nicht überhaupt das vorzüglichste...dabei eine wunderbare technische Behandlungsweise, subtil und genialisch zugleich': 'first rate - among the artist's best paintings, if not the best...beautifully handled technically, at once subtle and ingenious.' (Ludwig Knaus, exhibition catalogue, Wiesbaden, 1979, p. 33).
Knaus was the leading exponent of the Düsseldorf Bauerngenre ('peasant genre'). His compositions and technique were inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting, and in The Conjuror he adopted many of the devices used by the Dutch masters. These include the dramatic juxtaposition of lumionus colours with a dark background, and lending the scene a sense of theatricality by focusing the action in the foreground space, reminiscent of a stage.
While details such as the costumes, the individual facial expressions, or the conjuror's kit in the foreground are minutely observed with every attention to verisimilitude, the actual conditions of peasant life are clearly sentimentalised to evoke a rural idyll, much as in the genre paintings of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. Knaus greatly admired the work of the elder artist, whose similarly idealising Raree Show of 1847 (fig. 1) may have served as the model for The Conjuror.
The present work is sold with a framed print after the painting engraved by Paul Girardet and published by Goupil & Co in 1865 (fig. 2).
Fig. 1.: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Der Guckkastenmann (The Raree Show), 1847 © Budapest National Gallery
Fig. 2: engraving after the present work by Paul Girardet, sold with this lot