Ernst Würtenberger – artist, literary lover and educator

Ernst Würtenberger – artist, literary lover and educator

Two exhibitions in Constance and Gaienhofen

by Urs Knoblauch cultural publicist, Fruthwilen TG

Two exhibitions are presented below: the director of the historic Municipal Wessenberg-Gallery in Constance, Dr Barbara Stark, succeeded again in presenting an impressive exhibition with numerous works of Ernst Würtenberger and other artists in his environment. The exhibition focuses particularly on his almost 20 years of work in the flourishing art city of Zurich in connection with works by his contemporaries and role models.
The literature exhibition designed by Ute Hübner and Inga Pohlmann at the Hesse Museum in Gaienhofen on the island of Höri is equally pleasing. The museum houses an exhibition on life and work of the poet and pictures of artists from the Lake Constance region as well as works by painters who took refuge here during the war. Thanks to thorough joint research of art and literature, the work of Ernst Würtenberger (1868–1934) can now be rediscovered in both exhibitions. There is a richly illustrated catalogue with contributions by various authors. The two authors pay tribute to the artist in the introduction of the catalogue: Ernst Würtenberger “was a brilliant portraitist and successful painter, a masterful woodcutter, an equally sensitive and didactically gifted teacher, an analytical mind and sharp-tongued rhetorician, a socially-engaged networker, a faithful friend as well as a caring father and husband. He had a sense of humour and diverse literary interests and appreciated the intellectual discourse”.

Happy family life, thorough training and friendships

The Würtenberger family lived in Steisslingen near Radolfzell, in the Hegau in Baden. Ernst and his three siblings could enjoy country life until the age of seven. Their caring mother came from a local brewery and innkeeper’s family. In 1876 the family moved to Switzerland, to Emmishofen near Kreuzlingen. There the father, originally surveyor and private scholar, took over a brick factory as a partner. Very early the joy of drawing woke up in Ernst, especially on portraiture. His brother also developed the joy in artistic creative activity and became a sculptor and ceramist. Ernst attended the Constance Gymnasium and was then able to study at the famous Art Academy in Munich from 1888–1892 after having passed the demanding entrance examination, supported by his father. In 1895/96 he broadened his horizons by staying in Florence, visiting the studio of Arnold Böcklin and as master student of Ferdinand Keller in Karlsruhe. Early on, he wrote texts on topics of art and the painter Arnold Böcklin, who was one of the most important artists of his time. Numerous friendships were formed, for example in 1903 with Hermann Hesse and many other writers of the literary and art scene at Lake Constance, which enabled him to design and illustrate a number of books. Würtenberger belonged to the important group of artists of a value-oriented realism, which decisively shaped the 19th century. One example of this is the masterpiece “Der Konstanzer Stadtrat” (The Constance City Council) from 1899 with its precise and sensitive observation of the people at the political table.

Rich works in Zurich and Karlsruhe

In 1902 Würtenberger moved with his family to Zurich, where he spent his artistically most important years of creativity until 1921. Here he got a job as an art and drawing teacher at Luise Stadler’s “Kunst- und Gewerbeschule für Damen” (Arts and crafts school for women) and established himself as a freelance artist with increasing success. From 1914–1921 he was a teacher of figurative drawing at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts. The amicable relation to the literary historian Adolf Frey and to Hans Trog, feature manager at the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, were characterised by respect and mutual strengthening of the work. Würtenberger got involved in the Zurich Kunstgesellschaft, and he was a member of the Collection and Exhibition Commission for a long time. He was co-responsible for pioneering exhibitions on the French Impressionists or Felix Vallotton. The artist was inspired by the work of Ferdinand Hodler, he advocated for him and the new building of the Zurich Kunsthaus. Würtenberger stands in the tradition of a new figurative painting, as it was to admire in the large exhibition “Die andere Moderne – Kunst und Künstler in den Ländern am Rhein 1900–1922” (“The other art of modernism – art and artists in the countries on the Rhine 1900–1922”) in the Wessenberg Gallery in Constance, in the Museum Giersch in Frankfurt and in the Urban Gallery in Karlsruhe 2013/14.
In 1920 Würtenberger created an impressive woodcut series for Ulrich Bräker’s “Life story and natural adventures of the poor man in Tockenburg”. In 1921 he was appointed as the professor at the Baden State Art School, where he worked until his death in 1934. He created valuable textbooks about his experiences with the various graphic techniques for his students. He became known for his books “Zeichnung, Holzschnitt und Illustration” (“Drawing, Woodcut and Illustration”) (1919) and “Arnold Böcklin” (1927).
Würtenberger was a great admirer of Gottfried Keller’s works. Keller’s colour lithograph from 1905 “Das Fähnlein der sieben Aufrechten” (“The Banner of the Upright Seven”) can be admired in the two exhibitions. In the picture, Jeremias Gotthelf, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, the painter Anselm Feuerbach march with flag, followed by i. a. the architect Julius Kunkler, the painter Rudolf Koller and on the right edge Gottfried Keller and Arnold Böcklin behind him. The prominent artist group picture and the two interesting exhibitions encourage reading as well as thinking about the task and meaning of art. In the “The Banner of the Upright Seven” (Zurich novels) we find, for example, the beautiful words on civic responsibility: “No government and no battalions are able to protect law and freedom, if not the citizen himself is able to step on his own doorstep and see what is there. “The two exhibitions are to be wished a large crowd of visitors.     •

The exhibition in Constance is open until 1 April 2018, Tue.–Fri. 10 am to 6 pm and Sat., Sun. 10 am to 5 pm. <link http: wessenberg>
The special exhibition in Gaienhofen can be seen until 6 May 2018. Until 11 March: Fri. and Sat. 2 pm to 5 pm, Sun. 10 am to 5 pm, 13 March to 1 November, 2018: Tue to Sun. 10 am to 5 pm.<link http:>
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