OIL PAINTING: Center of Attention
Waldmuller was the most important Austrian painter of the Biedermeier period during the first half of the nineteenth century. Within his lifetime Waldmuller established a reputation in America, and there was a major exhibition of Waldmuller paintings in London in 1862. Waldmuller was proficient in most aspects of painting - miniatures, landscape, portraits and genre. His career within the art establishment was successful, but not without controversy. Appointed Professor at the Academy in Vienna in 1829, he was an advocate of realist painting and of reform, which led to his temporary dismissal from the post from 1857-64. Nonetheless, Waldmuller was an effective teacher, an influential theorist, and an immensely popular artist within Viennese society and at court. His success as a painter stemmed from his powers of observation, from his measured style and his wholly sympathetic treatment of subject matter. The accumulation and faithful recording of detail led to an idealism based on the subject matter itself, as opposed to one imposed upon it by an outside order, this being a vital distinction between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art.
Rustic genre was the last theme that Waldmuller essayed. The subjects Waldmuller chose extolled the moral virtues of rural life, or, as here, the joys of family life. The care taken over the rendering of garments, the still life and the surroundings is offset by the radiance of the figures' expressions, reinforced by their gestures which create a circular composition of great tenderness. Waldmüller was well-versed in the tradition of the Old Masters and the composition has affinities with several paintings by Raphael of the Holy Family - the Madonna Canigiani (Munich, Alte Pinakothek), the Madonna dell'Impannata (Florence, Palazzo Pitti), the Madonna of Francis I (Paris, Louvre) and the Madonna della Perla (Madrid, Prado). Waldmuller's homage to Raphael, however, is seen through the eyes of Correggio.