Sunday, 29 November 2009

Venus asleep: Slumbering Woman by Johann Baptist Reiter

Schlummernde Frau (Die erste Gemahlin des Künstlers) 1849

Here is a gorgeously sensual nude from Austrian painter Johann Baptist Reiter (1813-1890). The translation of the title is Slumbering Woman (The first wife of the artist). In fact, when the picture was painted in 1849 Reiter was still married to Maria Anna Hofstötter who he had wed ten years before at the age of 26. His wife, like Reiter, was from Linz but she left him in 1850 and it wasn't until 16 years later that he married again; to Anna Josefa Theresia Brayer. Unfortunately for Reiter, his second wife was one of those creatures who was so extravagant that he have to work flat out for the rest of his life just to keep up. Not just painting his own pictures but also having to do copies of old masters just to keep her in the style to which she had become accustomed to.

Johann Baptist Reiter: Self Portrait (1842)

Reiter was the son of a carpenter and started his artistic career painting furniture, ships' figureheads and even cemetery crosses. Encouraged by the art dealer Josef Hafner he went to Vienna and studied at the Academy under Kupelwieser, Ender and Petter. In 1830 he studied engraving and earned a living from painting porcelain. He started to exhibit his paintings and in 1836 won the Lampi prize (named after the Austrian painter whose first names were also, co-incidentally, Johann Baptist). His career took off and enabled him to buy a large house in Vienna.

This nude is unusual in his output which indicates that it was a private work painted for his own benefit. It is certainly a wonderfully intimate study with nothing whatsoever of the sort of classicism expected of a nude in this period. It has an erotic quality that is almost post-coital. Most of his pictures (after an unsuccessful attempt to produce religious pictures) were portraits (especially children and miniatures) or genre paintings of workers. As he got older he refused to be influenced by movements such as Impressionism but carried on painting in the same technically fine style that he had adopted from studying the Dutch Masters.

Betrachtung im Neglige (1847)

There is certainly a lot of the Dutch School in this study which is probably also his first wife. So Reiter's Slumbering Woman is a one off and, for that reason, we respond to it even more as a portrait of a young woman the artist obviously desired.

Agent Triple P saw this picture in the splendid Belvedere Palace Gallery in Vienna. The Upper Belvedere (there are two buildings) houses a wonderful collection of Austrian art including the largest collection of pictures by Gustav Klimt anywhere. Well worth a visit next time you are in Vienna.

Thanks to B for her help in translating the only piece I could find on Reiter.

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