JOHANN HEINRICH WILHELM TISCHBEIN
Goethe in the Roman Campagna
Oil on canvas
Inv. No. 1157
164 × 206 cm
There are countless contemporary portraits: the poet as a marble bust, an oil painting, a silhouette, and a watercolour. Goethe didn’t like any of them very much. He felt that none of them truly captured his physiognomy or his conception of himself as an artist. In the view of the time, countenance and physical bearing were the visual manifestation of thought, emotion, character and education. Goethe must have regarded the idealization of his features as an optical reduction of his rich personality and gifts. Goethe took an ironic view of this life-size portrait as well, commenting that it was “too big for our Nordic dwellings”. The painting came to the Städel in 1887 as a gift from the Rothschild family, promptly became quite famous, and went on to become the most frequently reproduced but also the most caricatured portrait of the Olympian, finally attaining icon status in 1981 thanks to Andy Warhol’s garishly coloured silk screen. Tischbein’s portrait continues to shape our image of the poet today despite its obvious formal defects – two left feet and skewed proportions. It clearly satisfies our ideal image of the genius’s unapproachable, melancholy superiority.
The painting is from March 28, 2013 to June 24, 2013 at the Louvre.
De l'Allemagne. German Thought and Painting, from Friedrich to Beckmann, 1800-1939