Julius Hübner (1806-1882)

H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K
Jun 13, 2018 3:13PM

part of the "Düsseldorfer Malerschule" and the circle of befriended artist round Wilhelm von Schadow.

Julius Hübner
Dwarves with spear
H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K

"News about our family [....]"

"[...] and anything else I want to know, because I know that all such news, even if often inconspicuous, will, over time, gain a high interest, often unimaginable, for the bereaved". (Family book Julius Hübners, quoted after Birgid Monschau-Schmittmann 1993, p. 13). Julius Hübner's decision to keep a "family book" in the form of a diary on the events in the life of the artist's family, which dates from around 1839, is equally praised by scholars for his comprehensive catalogue of works and his autobiographical information. For this reason, dates from the life of the artist Julius Hübner are well-known, although the larger part of the text has an inverted perspective and comes from memory, but is nevertheless first-hand. Rudolf Julius Benno Hübner was born on 27 January 1806 in Oels, Silesia, the son of the city director Ernst August Hübner and his wife Johanna Christiane, née Raedler. In his own tradition and in accordance with Prussian virtues, the decision was made to prepare the young Julius to study theology. Hübner looked back on his father's joy and talent for artistic creation, although he did not want his son to follow an education or study in this direction. Only the early death of his mother in 1812 and the death of his father in 1817, which made Julius an orphan at the age of eleven, allowed a perspective that was, in spite of everything, freer. While still at school in his home town of Oels, the basic theological direction was noticeable in language education and Bible study, but at the same time also aroused Hübner's interest in the literary aspects of his teaching. Apart from the marginal drawing lessons with the grammar school teacher Wilhelm Sander, he had to learn the art especially in self-study. In particular the acquaintance and the intensive exchange with the chancellor Carl Beyer, who also dealt with painting, confirmed his decision to pursue a career in the fine arts. In 1821 the cautious Hübner asked the art teacher Augustin Siegert (1786-1869), who worked at the University of Breslau, to examine his works and received the immediate confirmation of his talent and suitability. For a few weeks he moved to the studio of Siegert in Breslau to receive first instructions in drawing and painting before he began his studies at the academy.

After only six weeks in Augustin Siegerts studio, Hübner was allowed to move to the Berlin Art Academy. Accompanied by his older brother August, he moved to the Prussian capital and took part in the classes of Carl Bräuer (1794-1866) and Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850). In order to study painting, the academy students had to be predominantly autonomous  and, in some cases, sought access to private studios. Following a recommendation by the author Ernst Förster, Hübner was accepted into Wilhelm von Schadow's (1788-1862) studio, which was still young, and found a friend and teacher in him.

Supported by Schadow, he painted his first large history painting with the biblical motif Boas and Ruth as early as 1826, at the age of 18. With the entry of the young artists Carl Friedrich Lessing (1808-1880), Carl Ferdinand Sohn (1805-1867) and Christian Köhler (1806-1861) into the studio, a steady circle of friends formed among the boys, which was later joined by the somewhat younger Eduard Bendemann (1811-1889). Bendemann received private drawing lessons by Hübner in his parents' house, where the latter met his future wife, Pauline Bendemann, Eduard's sister. In November 1824 Julius Hübner's literary interest led him to found his own reading circle called Pentadelphie. During joint readings and discussions of literary works, Hübner often produced quick sketches to illustrate the theatrical pieces and texts discussed.

Julius Hübner
David with the head of Goliath
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The Düsseldorf School of Painting

The close ties that united the pupils in the studio of Wilhelm von Schadows also included the venerable teacher. When he was appointed director of the Art Academy in Düsseldorf in 1826 and closed his Berlin studio, the circle of friends around Hübner followed Schadow's call and also went to Düsseldorf. As a closed group of artists under one teacher and through the intensive efforts of the latter to revive the Düsseldorfer Academy, the collective was formed, which at the latest since 1828 was called Düsseldorfer Schule. Their style incorporated the idealizing way of representation as well as a close orientation to literary motifs.

In addition to history and portrait painting, Julius Hübner was also particularly active in textile illustration. For the first time in 1829 he created two book illustrations for the Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen, which appear as miniaturized historical pictures, and were printed as a visualization of two poems by Christian August Gottlob Eberhard. Hübner only returned to this first activity as an illustrator years later, when he illustrated a poem in Robert Reinick: Lieder eines Malers mit Randzeichnungen seiner Freunde in 1837. He also participated in the elaborately prepared illustration of the new edition of the Nibelungenlied in the New High German and Middle High German language, which was to be published by Otto and Georg Wigand in 1840. After this large undertaking, in which Hübner initially only assisted Eduard Bendemann - at that time already brother-in-law -, the artist supplied few individual illustrations, among others for Die Ammenuhr and the ABC book for small and large children. Beyond that, however, he obviously liked to deal with the genre of book and children's book illustration and, especially in his family circle, produced numerous occasional graphics and small drawings or illustrated his own texts and poems.

The first years in Düsseldorf marked the artistic breakthrough for Hübner and are considered to be the "preliminary summit in his career as an artist" (Birgid Monschau-Schmittmann 1993, p. 33). In December 1828, however, Hübner was back in Berlin and got engaged to the sister of his artist friend Eduard Bendemann, Pauline Charlotte Bendemann, whom he married the following year. In the same year, August 1829, the newly married couple set off to a long journey to Italy. This happened not least on the advice of the teacher Schadow, who wrote from Düsseldorf that the contact between artists at the Berlin Academy had become less friendly and that he therefore looked forward to Hübner’s return to Düsseldorf, or - so to speak on the detour - recommended a study trip to Italy's artistic impressions.

For his long stay in Italy, Julius Hübner also wrote a diary in which details of his travels within Italy are recorded. Arriving in Milan via Nuremberg, Munich, Venice and Mantua, the artist's parents-in-law, Anton and Fanny Bendemann, joined the couple and accompanied them via Genoa to Florence and finally to Rome. The couple, who had become richer by one daughter on 14 March 1830, stayed there until May 1831. During their stay in Rome, the little family often became a contact point for German travellers to Italy. The "Casa Bendemann-Hübner" became a meeting place for numerous artists, the old circle of friends of Hübner and last but not least Wilhelm von Schadow accepted the hospitality of the German artist in Rome. The close cohesion of Schadow's studio and the ideal of friendship and mutual support that the former Nazarenes had emulated in it were once again revealed. The collective paintings of the Bendemann-Hübner family and the Schadow district were created as an expression of friendship and as a remarkable work in the Œuvre of befriended artists. The artists portrayed each other and created a harmonious group picture with an intimate, familiar character despite the many participating hands. During his time in Italy, Hübner created numerous study drawings of ancient landscapes and vedutas of towns and fortresses, in addition to a few paintings. Still he was encouraged by his Düsseldorf mentor not to turn away from historical painting.

On 12 May 1831, Hübner and his little family began their journey home and returned to Berlin via stops in Siena, Florence, Bologna, Klagenfurt and Vienna. Until 1833 Hübner stayed in Berlin to paint smaller portraits. Then he moved with his family to Düsseldorf because of the Berlin Academy's lack of artistic innovation, which he had already noticed earlier. Aside from that the early death of his second child initiated this move. In Düsseldorf, the artist entered the Academy's newly established master class and moved into his own studio together with Bendemann. He also took an active part in cultural life and maintained relations with the poet Karl Leberecht Immermann (1796-1840) and the composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847).

Following his friend and brother-in-law Bendemann, who was called to Dresden in 1837, Hübner also moved to the city on the Elbe in 1839. In 1841 he was appointed professor of history painting at the academy of arts and established himself as an artist in Dresden. The time in Dresden was also characterised by Hübner's intensive contacts to the musicians Robert and Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and their mutual musical inspiration. Initiated by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and shaped by joint designs by Hübners and Bendemann, the monument in honour of Johann Sebastian Bach was erected in 1843 in Leipzig. As described above, also the occupation with the illustration of books took place during this period. During the German Revolution of 1848/49, Hübner joined the Academic Legion founded by students, which campaigned at the Frankfurt National Assembly, in particular by calling for a state wide art promotion.

Julius Hübner
The Three Parzen and Cupid, 1853-1873
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From practice to art theory

In 1856, the first catalogue of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, commented by Julius Hübner, was published, covering the history of the collection and important works of art. A letter to his son Emil shows that the painter did not do this task of academic writing easily and rather longed for the work with brush and canvas. It was not until the 1850s that Hübner developed a deeper knowledge of art history, which he acquired in particular from his precise knowledge of the Dresden collection and later intensified on study trips to England, France and Switzerland. Despite the initial difficulties in dealing with art theory, Hübner devoted himself increasingly to it in the following decades, not least because the demand for his paintings had successively declined. Rather, his teaching at the Academy and, from 1871, his administrative duties as director of the picture gallery took him on.

Already in his first year as gallery director, a large exhibition of works by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) took place in the gallery's rooms. On this occasion, a controversial question, which had been in the public domain for a long time, was taken up again, concerning the circumstances in which the Madonna of the Mayor Meyer came into being. In 1822 an apparently identical work by Hans Holbein was discovered, which now appeared as a counterpart to this piece of jewellery in the Dresden gallery. As it turned out, the picture in Dresden had already been made as a copy in the 17th century and has since been circulated as an original in various collections. When the painting was rediscovered in 1822, a real dispute developed among art scholars over the question of the respective origin, which found its provisional highlight during the Dresden exhibition. Julius Hübner was badly criticised for stubbornly stating that both pictures were by Holbein. When Hübner resigned as gallery director in 1882, he was awarded a honorary doctorate by the University of Leipzig in recognition of his theoretical work. The art academies of Berlin and Pennsylvania in the USA also awarded him an honorary membership. In the years of his retirement, he again tried vainly to participate in the painting of the new museums interior, for which he had already applied in the 1860s. Julius Hübner died of pleurisy on 7 November at the age of 76 in his house in Loschwitz after illness.

Benedikt Ockenfels

Recommended Reading

  • Birgid Monschau-Schmittmann: Julius Hübner (1806-1882). Leben und Werk eines Malers der Spätromantik (Bonner Studien zur Kunstgeschichte, 7), Münster 1993.
  • Konrad Renger: „Weil ich ein Maler bin soll ich nicht dichten …“. Zu Julius Hübner als Buchillustrator und Poet, in: De arte et libis. Festschrift Erasmus 1934–1984, Amsterdam 1984, S. 369–386
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