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Gabriel von Max

OCTOBER 29, 2007
"Monkeys as Critics"
I've been wanting to post something about one of my favorite artists, Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max, (August 23, 1840 - November 24, 1915) for some time now. Given the various competitions in our field that are either being unveiled or judged in the coming weeks, I saw a very thin thread to hang it on now. After all, one of von Max's most famous paintings, "Monkeys as Critics", was about judgement and aesthetic.
Gabriel von Max was the son of a sculptor, Joseph Max, and he initially trained in his native Prague with Eduard von Engerth. He later went to the Viennese Academy of Art and finally to the Munich Academy, where he studied under Karl Theodor von Piloty and Hans Makart. He settled there, and from 1879 to 1883 he was a professor of Historical Painting at the Munich Academy. He was also an accomplished illustrator, producing images for a variety of literary stories, poems, fairy tales and folk songs.
"The Anatomist"
But what's most interesting to me about von Max's work is the mystical & allegorical paintings he began producing later in his life. In addition to "Monkeys as Critics", works like "The Anatomist", and "The Ecstasy of Katharina Emmerich" (all three in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich—one of my favorite museums) take on an almost surreal quality that's unlike anything his peers were doing, and that foreshadows both the Secessionist movement and today's figurative/symbolist genre.
"The Ecstasy of Katarina Emmerich"
While a great deal of his work had a religious theme, there's a haunting quality about his paintings that comes partly from the muted palette he used for most of his later works, but also from the lifelong interest he had in mysticism and philosophy, which colored even his most conventional subjects.
© 2024 Marc Burckhardt