The Personal Perspective

This exploration of childhood exposures to art is an effort to prepare for exploring how others came to, worked with, and collected art. Like so many others who care for art, in this case visual art, my affinity originated in several settings. My first exposure goes back to the Hotel Elephant in Brixen/Bressanone in Northern Italy. My wife Joni and I overnighted there in 2006 in the same room that my parents, brother, and I occupied from 1939 to 1942. When we walked along a hallway toward the refurbished room, the paintings of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and their families looked down like they did so many years ago.

Another set of memories placed itself when I was an altar boy in the small Baroque church in Afers/Eores in the Dolomite Mountains 15 kilometers from Brixen/Bressanone. It was completed in 1754. I admired the beautiful main altar and the right-hand altar with its painting of the Madonna and child. While the walls are white, flowers, pictures of saints, the 12 paintings of Christ’s crucifixion, the marbleized wooden columns, and the ceiling are adorned with a massive image of heaven opened.

The other exposure to art was when my mother and I walked almost daily through one of the most significant

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European cloisters next to the 18th-century cathedral. I admired the curious elephant; the artist of the 14th century may have read about elephants but had not seen one.

Finally, there was the Egarter farm. Agnes Clara, the teacher and sister of Josef, the owner, frescoed a Madonna with child above the front entrance, decorated the front door in vibrant colors, and painted the deep window frames blue. She and her brother created a similarly beautiful crèche for the living room like the one they had built for the church.

Art reentered my life decades later in a unique way; one of my first-year students in the late 1960s at Appalachian State University told me about her husband, an artist in the Art Department. Soon after, my first wife and I bought four of William (Bill) Dunlap’s earliest pieces. His exuberant personality and the quality of his art had taken us in, but so had the recollection of my previous exposures to visual art. We continued to buy Bill’s art and soon reached out to other artists and collectors, engaging in intense conversation with them. A deep sense of obligation to encourage artists and to continue to collect their work began to emerge. Once we had “sufficient” art, we viewed ourselves as caretakers of art and began to donate some to our university’s Turchin Center for Visual Arts.

Two Artists and Two Collectors

Two artists and two collectors are the focus of this exploration. The first artist is Angelika Kauffmann (1741-1807). Her father, Joseph Johann, an itinerant portraitist and church painter, encouraged his only daughter to paint and took her on his jobs in her native Swiss area of Bregenz. Her Italian-speaking mother, Cleofe Lucin, taught her Italian, and thus Angelica could easily enter Italian environments soon after her earliest work with her father. Her first success came in Como, where she created a pastel of the resident bishop. After two years there, the family moved to Milan, and Angelika surprised others once more with her talent. By then she had decided on a career in art rather than music. Even the hiatus in Schwarzenberg (1757-1762) after her mother’s death did not interrupt her chosen path.

Why did Kauffmann choose painting over music and continue her career? She responded herself: “My youth was shaped through fantastic palaces, beautiful villas and palaces, elegant boats and splendid theatres.” She left out beautiful baroque churches in

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which she had assisted her father. Also significant was her immediate success with portraits. Any residual doubt about her career path evaporated when she rose to European fame with several known supporters, including Henry Fuseli, Nathaniel Dance, Benjamin West, and Johann Joachim Winkelmann. In 1764, she created one portrait after another, among them several of Winkelmann and the English actor David Garrick in Rome. She learned early to network, became a versatile conversationalist, and painted in the then fashionable neo-classical style.

By the 1760s, she had attained her first honorary membership in an Italian academy. Still in her mid-20s, she had sensed that, if she wanted to remain part of the international art scene, she had to paint and paint some more. Her determination is palpable. She earned very well with portraits, thrived with historical scenes, and later in life flourished with religious and allegorical works.

Kauffmann’s fierce determination in a male world and astonishing talent brought her an invitation from Lady Wentworth to accompany her to England. There she continued to improve, even though her friendship with Joshua Reynold did not lead to marriage. She married instead Antonio Zucchi, a fellow painter, and the couple first moved for an extended stay in Rome and then to Venice; both died there. Her work sold all across Europe and is in collections worldwide today. She had become an expression of her time, that of the 18th century, according to Hammer in Angelika Kauffmann (1987).

The more recent artist, Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), represents a different trajectory and sensibilities, as well as a far more diverse approach to art than Kauffmann. Kollwitz did not grow up in a household filled with art or a father or mother who were artists; however, her father was an architect. “Father,” the artist recollected, “kept an eye on our work and soon began saving strips of paper” of her and her sister’s earliest drawings on pieces of wastepaper from his architectural designs (Kollwitz, 1955, p. 18). On her walks (“loafing”) with her sister in Königsberg (Kaliningrad), Kollwitz (1955) first encountered workers and “From the first I was strongly attracted to the workman type ….” (p. 28), which she later applied in her drawings. At 14, her father “sent me to the best teachers in Königsberg” (Kollwitz, 1955, p. 37). As a 17-year-old she then enlisted in the Drawing and Painting Academy of the Society of Women Artists in Berlin. As established in Prelinger et al. (1992) Käthe Kollwitz, she wanted to paint, she wrote later, but one

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of the professors advised her to draw. After additional private lessons in Königsberg, she studied in Munich from 1888 to 1890. A year later, she married Dr. Karl Kollwitz, and they moved purposedly to a poor neighborhood in Berlin.

Where did Kollwitz’ drive originate? She answered herself:

Now when I ask myself why Lise (her sister), for all her talent, did not become a real artist… the reason is clear to me. I was keenly ambitious, and Lise was not. I had a clear aim and direction, and Lise did not…. She lacked total concentration on [art]…. I wanted my education to be in art alone. If I could, I would have saved all my intellectual powers and turned them exclusively to use in my art, so that this flame alone would burn brightly. (Kollwitz, 1955, pp. 24-25)

Her son, Hans Kollwitz (1955), shored up his statement with the quote from her grandfather Julius Rapp’s tombstone: “Man is not here to be happy, but to do his duty” (p. 2). Like most woman (and male) artists before her, she felt the absolute urge to create and express herself through her work. While some did it to make a living and others for pure enjoyment, Kollwitz’ creative activity was less about surviving with it and more about expressing her understanding of the human condition.

What Kauffmann accomplished with portraits and classical themes, Kollwitz attained with a variety of works. Some of her creations have become internationally recognized classics. Among them are The March of the Weavers (English translation), Never Again War (English translation), and her later self-portraits.

Let me now turn to two collectors. Catherine the Great’s (1729-1790) love for art is well known but rarely investigated. The later empress does not mention her exposure to art in her memoirs, but I did in passing in my dissertation. Because her mother Johnna Elisabeth was related to every royal house in Northern Europe and her father Christian August was an “administrative field marshal” in the Prussian army and Gouverneur of Stettin (Szczecin), the family had access to several courts and her mother, and princess Sophie traveled extensively to them. While neither Stettin, where she was born, nor Zerbst, the family’s hereditary residence, provided exposure to a wider Europe, the courts in Hamburg, Kiel, and Berlin did. Thus, Sophie was hardly an “obscure” German princess (Jacques, 2017). Especially influential was the court at Berlin, where

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Fredrick the Great began to reign in 1740. As she recollected that “Later she [Catherine] therefore could make a fairly accurate evaluation of fine entertainment and fine art works and could bring together works of art, valuable books and libraries” (Petschauer, 1969, p. 168). The empress wrote that “I’m not a connoisseur. I’m a glutton” for art (Jacques, 2017, p. 31). She was, indeed, collecting about 4,000 pieces of art.

By discovering how I came to art, another context becomes available for the later empress; the Russian Orthodox churches with their truly fabulous displays of glorious color and their intense icons and stunning vestments on their priests. In one of these churches, the Lutheran princess Sophie from Anhalt-Zerbst became Ekaterina, the Russian Orthodox princess and wife of Peter, the heir to the imperial throne. Soon after she had usurped the throne in 1762, she began to surround herself with art. She sent emissaries all across Europe to acquire works of art and hired prominent architects and artists to assist in creating a splendid home, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, for her collections. Even while she used art to display her power, she also genuinely appreciated and enjoyed being surrounded by it; she wanted to discuss it whenever feasible and invited prominent Western European intellectuals to her court to do so. From a psychological point of view, we may assume that she asserted that she had created an environment at least as refined as that of Frederik II.

Dorothy (1934-) and Herbert Vogel (1922-2012) collected art for the sake of it as well as for the pleasure of owning it and the enjoyment of conversations with artists, like Christo, Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, and Robert Mangold. Unlike Catherine’s collecting, theirs was not also a display of wealth and power. But how and why did they begin collecting art? How did they decide on their selfless approach? We know that Vogel dropped out of school and labored in the NY garment industry. After he came back from the military, he determined that there must be more to this life or this world. Douglas Martin wrote upon Herbert Vogel’s death that:

When Herbert came back from the Army, he visited the old masters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and that led him to contemporary art, and contemporary art led him to the Cedar Bar, the fabled artists’ hangout in Greenwich Village. There he listened in awe to Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and David Smith…. ‘I was nothing – a postal clerk,’ he told

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The Times. ‘But I respected the artists, and they sort of respected me. They would talk until 3, 4 in the morning, and I … just listened….’ (Section B, p. 9)

Already before becoming engaged to Dorothy Faye Hoffman, he bought a piece of art. Upon their engagement in 1961, they bought a Picasso. It is unclear what came first, the failure with an art course at NYU or these purchases. But it is clear that they began collecting art because it was more satisfying than making art; they bought their second piece shortly after they married. By the 1970s, the couple had become known in New York City in artists’ circles as collectors. One of the Vogels referred to having “caught the disease,” the urge to buy art. But it had to be minimalist, and they had to be able to carry it home.

In 1992, they began to donate about 2,400 pieces of their collation to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and parts of it to every state in the union, “50×5” (another 2,500 pieces). They knew the NGA well and liked that admission was free and that it did not deacquisition its holdings. In return for their gift of millions, they asked for a small pension.

Conclusion

In earlier periods in the West, when being an artist was seen less as a creative activity and more as a trade, growing up with art was almost a precondition for becoming an artist. Of the 250 18th century German artists whom I investigated, about 50 were successful; of them, 25 were very much so. Kauffmann is symbolic of these thriving German-speaking women artists who grew into households in which the father was an artist. They were determined to create art even after they married and did not have access to a ready space to paint. Their patrons tended to be upper-level nobles and royals.

The situation then changed after the French Revolution. Anyone so inclined could receive art training, whether they grew up with art or not, but it required more determination. Kollwitz is an example of that trend; she found an art career. To repeat her earlier quote: “Lise lacked total concentration on [art],” that is, Käthe had it (Kollwitz, 1955, p. 24). Patrons now came increasingly from the upper and middle classes, and the love for art tended to be increasingly independent of the background of the collector. It may have started with one painting or a household full of them, a church, or

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another point of interest. Here too we see the satisfaction to own it, even if it is no more than to show it off. But collecting can provide so much joy that one collector told me: “When I see a ‘pretty’ piece of art, I have to have it.” The Vogels developed a similar attitude; all the same, it takes extreme determination to collect art.

Aside from the sheer love of art and determination to make and own it, every successful artist and collector needs networks. We see it in Kauffmann and the appeal of her portraits and Kollwitz in her attempt to reflect the human condition. We also find it with collectors like Catherine and the Vogels; they build extensive networks with artists and other collectors.

Although some collectors assume that they own art permanently, many realize that they are only caretakers. A collection may offer satisfaction, self-esteem, display of power, positive feedback, and sometimes the satisfaction of having outbid another collector for a piece of art.

A final thought: Once one has collected sufficient art, what does one do with it? Sadly, few collectors’ children care for their parents’ collections. Catherine II as well as Dorothy and Herbert Vogel show a unique path; she built a palace for her collection, and they gave it to museums. In both cases, their collections remain accessible to the public.

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References:

  • Jacques, Susan (2017). The empress of art: Catherine the Great and the transformation of Russia. Pegasus Books.
  • Kollwitz, Kaethe (1955). In H. Kollwitz (Ed.), The diary and letters of Kaethe Kollwitz (Trans. R. & C. Winston). Northwestern University Press. (Original work published 1989.)
  • Martin, Douglas (June 23, 2012). Fabulous art collector, dies at 89. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/arts/design/herbert-vogel-postal-clerk-and-modern-art-collector-dies-at-89.html.
  • Petschauer, Peter (1969). The education and development of an enlightened absolutist: The youth of Catherine the Great, 1729-1762.
  • Prelinger, Elizabeth; Comini, Alessandra; & Bachert, Hildegard (1992). Käthe Kollwitz. National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press.

Authors:

Peter W. Petschauer

Peter W. Petschauer, PhD, Dr hc, is Professor Emeritus of European History from Appalachian State University. He is also an author and a poet. Some of his most recent works include An Immigrant in the 1960s: Finding Hope and Success in New York City (2020) and Hopes and Fears: Past and Present (2019). The author may be reached at petschauerpw@appstate.edu or peterpetschauer.com.

How to Cite This:

Petschauer, P. W. (2022). For the love of art. Clio’s Psyche, 29(1), 59-66.

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