Wilhelm Riedel (1832–1876)
The National Gallery in Prague prepared large monograph retrospective of the hitherto almost ignored representative of the 19th-century Realistic landscape painting – Czech German, Wilhelm Riedel. The exhibition is held on the second floor of the Kinský Palace.
The painter was born into a significant German family of glassmakers, originating from the North-Bohemian Sudeten. Between 1852 and 1854, he studied at the Prague Academy with Maxmilian Haushofer and then four years in the Düsseldorf private school with Andreas Achenbach. He sojourned to Italy twice for many years, not only painting the contemporary popular monuments of Classical Antiquity, but also Italian landscape baked by summer sun, with torsos of old buildings, olive groves and rocky hills. In 1864, he arrived to France where he soon began working in the surroundings of Barbizon and later spent some time with his friend and colleague, Soběslav Pinkas, in Cernay-la-Ville. He created his best paintings at the seashore of Brittany and at the Channel Islands of Sark and Guernsey. His travel to the sea was a source of new stimuli to him: the inaccessible landscape of the seashore and the stormy waves of the Atlantic Ocean were accompanied in his scenes by lighthouses, poor fishermen’s villages and stone menhirs. He painted the rocky formations on the seaside, their various forms and configurations, and was mesmerized by the Brittany’s pink granite which can be found in the region in many hues. Later, he worked in the surroundings of the Seine and Oise rivers, creating scenes of quietened river landscapes full of reflections of light and atmospheric moods. He returned to his homeland, Bohemia, only at the end of his life when he suffered from a fatal disease.
Riedel was one of the first Czech artists to realize the significance of French landscape painting for the next artistic developments and trends: his close contact with the second generation of Barbizon painters and his transforming their inspiration into a distinctive expression immensely rich in colour represented the first real contact with French landscape Realism for Czech painting. His realistic concept, influenced by the leading representatives of the Barbizon School – C. Corot, Ch. F. Daubigny and J. Dupré – became the basic feature of his work and his expressive form reached their ultimate peak in the artistic interpretation of reality. Along with K. Purkyně, S. H. Pinkas and V. Barvitius, Riedel ranks amongst a significant generation of Czech realistic painters who were the first and the last to be capable of catching up to France due to their orientation to that country.
It was only the premature death that spared this man of German origin from witnessing the nationalist polarization of Czech society which, later, eliminated him from our art history for a long time and which only sporadically recalled his name and his works. His works remained closed in private collections and the next generation had only few changes to become familiar with them. In the 20th century, his oeuvre was shifted to German painting according to nationalist viewpoint, and was excluded from Bohemian art-historical research. The only result of this was that no one paid him any attention – he was a German for the Czechs, and a foreigner for the Germans. But the homeland of this artist was certainly Bohemia for this is where he returned in his illness, where he had his family and home and where he died in the age of only 40. Here, the division after nationalist criterion, applied in previous periods, fails. Art created under the 19th-century multinational Austrian-Hungarian monarchy must be classified after territorial criteria which can indicate more about the roots, points of departure, contacts, as well as oeuvre, compare more than an artist’s nationality. Not only for these reasons must Riedel’s oeuvre be classified back into the generation of Bohemian painters of Realism but that he must also be ensured his relevant position in Czech art history more than 130 years after his death.
Entrance fee to the exhibition “Wilhelm Riedel (1832–1876)”, second floor of the Kinský Palace: Basic – 100 CZK, reduced – 50 CZK, families – 150 CZK
Daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The National Gallery in Prague – Kinský Palace
Old Town Square 12, Prague 1
How to get there: Subway line A – station Staroměstská, subway line B – station Můstek