Cosmos Runge

Dawn of Romanticism

13 May – 4 September 2011

Oeuvre of an artistic genius

The Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung (the Hypo Cultural Foundation) in Munich presented the Romantic artist Philipp Otto Runge (1777–1810). This first retrospective exhibition outside Hamburg included some 300 paintings and works on paper by this artistic genius who died too young. In addition to Caspar David Friedrich, Runge is considered the most important founder of German Romanticism.

With 25 paintings, over 200 drawings and some 50 paper cut-outs, the show covered Runge’s entire career, and offered a glimpse into his cosmos. His struggle towards a new art and his efforts to create an adequate mode of expression for the era around 1800 find culmination in his principal graphic works, exploring the four times of day (1803 and after), as well as in the famous painting entitled “The Great Morning” (1809). In addition, his portraits of close friends and family provide deep insight into his biography. The multitude of sketches and drawings in which Runge approached his topics proves to be the key to a complex appreciation of painting and art.

Realised in A Gesamtkunstwerk

Runge was inspired by the vision of uniting the art of painting, poetry, music and architecture in a so-called Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, thereby exploring unchartered artistic terrain. In his paintings, he attempted to depict the understanding of nature based on the cycle of life, a concept typical of the Romantic Era. However, his many self-portraits also serve as a vivid testimony to his intensive questioning of himself as a person, which proved to be a starting point for his understanding of transcendence and cosmos. Runge used his depictions of children, particularly in paintings like “The Little Perthes” (1805) or “The Children Hülsenbeck” (1805), to establish a fresh look at the budding individual in art. The delicate scissor-cut silhouettes, masterpieces in their natural accuracy and abstraction, bear witness to his versatility.

Composition of the exhibition

This retrospective was divided into ten sections, which were organised partly according to genre, partly according to thematic and medium aspects: the self-portraits form the prelude, along with Runge’s early works and pieces from his time at the Academy, followed by his first independent compositions. The chapter entitled “Picture and Frame” featured his analysis of the arabesque in Romantic art. At the core of the exhibition were the four “Times of the Day” which represent the key to his artistic work. Then there was an excursus dedicated to Runge’s Theory of Colours, before the exhibition continued with the artist’s portraits. These were followed by a series of religious works and literary illustrations; a profusion of scissor-cuts and silhouettes forms the conclusion. In addition, the results of a research project by the Hamburg Kunsthalle’s conservation department documented the latest findings on Philipp Otto Runge’s painting technique.

Owing to the highly delicate nature of his works, Runge’s oeuvre had seldom been exhibited outside Hamburg. To mark the 200th anniversary of the artist’s death, Markus Bertsch, Jenns Howoldt and Andreas Stolzenburg, curators of the Hamburg Kunsthalle, had developed this comprehensive exhibition for Hamburg and Munich. Following the resounding success of the retrospective in Hamburg that ran from December 3, 2010 to March 13, 2011, we were particularly delighted to be able to present this pioneering innovator of Romanticism for the first time in Munich. Hirmer Verlag Munich has published a comprehensive, fully illustrated catalogue.

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