Biedermeier Period: Art & Artists

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Can art portray middle class life? During the Biedermeier Period in Germany and Austria, it did. In this lesson, explore Biedermeier Period art and learn about artists who worked in the style.

When Was the Biedermeier Period?

When you hear the phrase ''middle class life,'' what images do you see? Grand adventures and dramas? Or small pleasures like a cozy house or a suburban street? In Germany during the Biedermeier Period, the idea of the middle class found its way into paintings of everyday life.

The Biedermeier Period, from roughly 1815 to 1848, was the name given to a style in art, interior design, and architecture. It developed in Northern Europe, especially Germany and Austria. It was simple and straightforward art that had a goal of capturing everyday life. It wasn't severe, like the Neoclassical style that preceded it. Nor was it deep and emotional like the Romantic style that followed it.

The Biedermeier movement got its name from a joke. Regularly featured in a German satire magazine, Papa Biedermeier was a character who was portrayed enjoying the simple comforts of home. In gentle mocking, the magazine was commenting on this growing class of folks.

But how did such a style come about?

Art in the Biedermeier Period

The Biedermeier Period corresponded with a lot of change in Northern Europe, especially in Austria and Germany. These areas were industrializing, with people coming to urban areas to work in factories. The shift in working life resulted in a growing middle class with money to spend. Also, the Napoleonic Wars had recently ended, bringing a period of military and political turmoil to a close. People in Germany and Austria were coming to terms not only with the war's end, but also with political oppression that developed as a result. So they looked inward.

The Biedermeier Period was a reaction to all the change. Instead of heavy emotional historical scenes or paintings deep with philosophical symbolism, Biedermeier art focused on more mundane, domestic, and home-based subjects. It attempted to capture the gentle pleasures of middle class life.

Biedermeier Period paintings fell into several categories, including portraits, landscapes of gentle scenes, and still life works of everyday objects. Genre painting, images of people in everyday life, doing everyday things, was also a favorite subject. Genre painting was a style of painting found throughout Europe, and the term ''genre painting'' originated in France. It was particularly popular in 17th century Dutch and Flemish art.

You'd rarely see drama or flights of wild fancy in Biedermeier paintings. Some artists painted history scenes during this time, but they tended to be nostalgic. The art is inward-looking and perhaps a bit complacent. When looking at a Biedermeier painting, it's easy to forget the changes going on in Germany and Austria. Biedermeier works sometimes convey a sense of longing for the past but a pleasant past absent of trouble or conflict.

Who were some artists active during the Biedermeier Period?

Artists of the Biedermeier Period

One of the best known artists of the Biedermeier Period was the German painter Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), who trained as a pharmacist but went into art instead. In addition to painting, he was also an engraver and illustrator. Spitzweg was known for landscapes and small genre paintings. He painted snippets of everyday life, sometimes with a gentle touch of humor. One of his best known works is The Poor Poet, painted in 1839. In it, a poet in bed clothing sits up in bed, working on his poetry. His surroundings are spartan, but he doesn't really seem to notice.

The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg
The Poor Poet

Another Biedermeier artist from Northern Germany was Georg Friedrich Kersting (1785-1847), who painted interior genre scenes. He was especially known for small portraits and carefully rendered interiors. In At the Mirror, from 1827, gentle sunlight falls upon a simple, intimate moment of a girl doing her hair in front of a tall mirror. It's a scene that never would have appeared in Neoclassical art.

At the Mirror by Georg Friedrich Kersting
At The Mirror

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