Johann Philipp Eduard Gaertner (born June 2, 1801 in Berlin, died February 22, 1877 in Flecken Zechlin) was a Berlin painter of the 19th century who was especially admired for his accurate, yet lively, reproduction of urban architecture.
Eduard Gaertner, who was born in Berlin in 1801, moved to Kassel with his mother in 1806, where he received his first drawing lessons at the age of ten. In 1813 the two came back to Berlin, and the following year, Gaertner began a six-year apprenticeship at the Royal Porcelain Manufactory (KPM). This training is an essential prerequisite for Gaertner’s career, not least because of the accuracy of the work required by him. Other Berlin architects also began their professional life in the KPM. He himself differed in the opinion that what had been learned there was “more than a superficial doctrine of perspective for my career,” rather than “conducive”, since I had only to make rings, margins, and kinks.” During the apprenticeship, Gaertner attended the academy of the arts.
After another year in the KPM, now as a fully trained porcelain painter, he changed to the studio of the Royal Court maker Carl Wilhelm Gropius in 1821 as a decorative painter and stayed there until 1825. By working on stage decorations, partly by designs by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, he acquired Further basic knowledge of architectural painting, to which he now increasingly turned. During these years he already participated in the exhibitions of the Academy of Arts (on which he then regularly participated until 1872), received first orders from the Prussian court and was able to paint a picture of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. The success allowed him a three-year study trip to Paris – not the first of his numerous journeys, but a significant one for his artistic development. Probably he learned a lot from English watercolours like John Constable, who at that time had discovered Paris, in parts, still medieval, as a subject for their painting. Gaertner’s pictures soon revealed a more painterly conception than before, he learned to use light and air perspective impressively, and decided finally for his future main theme, the Stadtvedute.
After his return from Paris, Gaertner settled down in Berlin in 1828 as a freelance painter. He married 1829. With his wife Henriette he had twelve children, one of the seven sons died shortly after birth. In the next ten years, a large number of works have been created in which he described the diversity of the diversity of Berlin’s Biedermeier capital, which had just been enriched by Schinkel’s buildings. But he also painted the castle landscapes of the neighbourhood, with the view of the customers at the royal court: Bellevue, Charlottenburg, Glienicke, and Potsdam. The paintings were sold well (the king alone acquired several views of the castle) and found general recognition. In 1833, Gaertner applied for admission to the Academy of Arts and became a full-time prospective painter.
The following year he began his most famous work, the six-part panorama of Berlin. Schinkel had just finished the Friedrichswerder church, whose flat roof became the popular excursion destination of the Ber-liners – all the city’s striking buildings were within sight. From here, Gaertner painted his circular image, and this work was purchased by the King. A second version was given by Gaertner to Russian Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, a daughter of Frederick William III, on one of his long journeys to Saint Petersburg and Moscow in the years 1837 and 1838, during which he drew and painted extensively.
In 1840 Friedrich Wilhelm III, who had promoted Berlin architectural painters and purchased a total of 21 paintings by Gaertner. After his son’s government, the political and cultural climate changed. In addition to Italian and Greek art, Frederick William IV preferred a German-national art practice oriented towards the Middle Ages. He, too, bought a few pictures from Gaertner, but he had lost his most important client, and soon fell into a financially strained situation.
In the search for new fields of work, he apparently made contact with the advocates of the monument preservation. A prerequisite for the protection and restoration of endangered Prussian architectural monuments was a planned inventory of such buildings. On extensive journeys through villages and cities of the province of Prussia, which is now part of Poland, Gaertner produced a series of watercolours that served the documentation. On the way, more pictures were created, which also contained architectural motifs, but the landscape was more strongly emphasized and intended for the later sale in Berlin – in the small towns of the province there were hardly buoyant inhabitants. In Torun on the Vistula, on the other hand, he acquired a firm bourgeois clientele on several journeys. Overall, all these activities were not always successful, some of the works thus created remained unsold.
In the second half of the century his art found less and less applause. In 1870, he and his wife left the frantic Berlin metropolis and settled in the Zechlin district of Brandenburg. There, Gaertner died on February 22, 1877. His widow asked the artist support fund of the Academy of Arts for an annual grant of 150 marks, but her request was rejected.
Eduard Gaertner seemed to have disappeared from the history of art. It was only at the German Exposition of 1906 that his works were shown again; they were then compared with the art of the great Italian veduta painter Bernardo Bellotto (called Canaletto). There were also individual pieces of individual exhibitions in 1968 and 1977, a comprehensive exhibition in 2001 in the Ephraim Palace in Berlin.
Eduard Gaertner worked with the precision of an architect. As a technical drawing aid for the preparation of his pictures, he was very likely to use the camera obscura, although he did not mention this in his workbooks. There, however, expressions such as drawing machines and apparatus point to the device, as do various architectural drawings on transparent paper. In Gaertner’s possession was also a collection of early photographs with Berlin city views. He certainly watched the development of the new image technology with interest, but he did not use the photos directly as a template for his pictures.
The Berlin panoramas are the highlights of Gaertner’s life. He thus refers to a popular and widespread medium of entertainment and instruction in the 19th century. Circular pictures of mostly 14 m height and 120 m circumference attracted numerous spectators in the large cities of Europe since around 1790, landscapes, histories and city views were shown. In addition, small panoramas were created, in which images could be viewed through magnifying lenses. Gaertner chose a special form. He hoped from the outset that the king would buy his panorama, and therefore decided to make picture-cards in the room format. The 360 ° panoramic view was distributed over two triptychs, each two wider side wings were arranged at an angle of 45 ° to the middle part in order to achieve a convincing perspective.
In this way, Gaertner provided a precise description of the Berlin urban landscape, but at the same time a series of lively genre pictures. Summer afternoon light determines the warm tone of the paintings and emphasizes the plasticity of the buildings by the slanting light. Men, women and children in various everyday situations, as well as all sorts of animals, liven up the scenes. The location of the painter is included in the composition and forms the foreground – a principle that has also been used extensively in the large panoramas to underline spatial depth. Here, Gaertner also presents himself, his wife, two of his children, as well as some prominent contemporaries: Schinkel, Beuth, Alexander von Humboldt. Friedrich Wilhelm III. Were very gracious about the first three pictures, and the finished panorama took its place in Charlottenburg Palace in 1836. It was judged very admirably and brought the painter various follow-up assignments.
Change in style:
Soon after 1840 – the death of Frederick William III. – a progressive style change can be observed in Gaertner’s work, which follows the spirit of the time and the personal taste of the new king. The general development proceeded from classicist clarity to a more romantic look at nature and history, to the ideal-izing superelevation. At Gaertner, landscape images with dramatically shaped clouds are now found, in which the architecture plays only a subordinate, decorative role. He dominated the romantic repertoire: steep rocks, wide trees (with oaks), ruins of all kinds, gypsies. These works, too, had a picturesque quality, but were much less admired than the views of earlier years. Thus, Eduard Gaertner is remembered above all as the architectural painter who carefully observed and portrayed the city of Berlin in a significant section of its history.