LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

Wasse - Garden Scene - V0M9706.jpg
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ARTHUR CRAMER JAMES WASSE (Manchester 1854 – Rothenburg 1930)

The Artist’s Home

signed Arthur Wasse in the lower right, inscribed and dated on the reverse: To my very kind Friends Albert & Emilie Therkelsen as some slight return for many kindnesses received. Rothenburg. º|T. X’mas 1920.

oil on canvas

30 1/5 x 37 ½ inches          (76.7 x 95.2 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Arthur Wasse, Christmas 1920 to

Albert & Emilie Therkelsen who gifted it to

Private Collection, Santa Barbara, California, and thus by descent until 2015

 

A riotous display of flowers and vines has almost engulfed the front door of Arthur Wasse’s home. A dreamland set in Rothenburg, the canvas is a profusion of torenias, nasturtiums, straw flowers, and ivy into which only a few portholes of sunlight shine. A solitary blackbird saunters across an emerald lawn with a scattering of leaves. The Artist’s Home is a masterwork of tactility and patterning. Achieved through the use of unmodulated color applied in rapid brushstrokes, the flowers pulsate across the canvas. The three-dimensionality of the abundant wreath that engulfs the home’s entrance is the result of the painter’s intense scrutiny of the atmospheric effects of light and shade playing and constantly crossing over his beloved garden. In stark contrast is the darkened interior of the old stone dwelling visible through the open door. In actuality so magical was the effect of the house and garden situated on the remains of the old city wall in Rothenburg, that when Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), the author of The Secret Garden, encountered them while visiting the town and learning that it belonged to an artist insisted on viewing “the pictures of a man who had the sense to make a house of that place and live in it.” She further described the dwelling as “a defense tower” and the visit as one of her happiest afternoons during a 1913 motoring trip through Europe.[1]

Descended from the artistic families of both his mother Anne Robinson and father John Angelo Wasse, the son’s formal training began at the Manchester School of Art for a period of ten months no later than 1875. The headmaster was William Jabez Muckley, renowned for his paintings of flowers.[2] That same year Wasse won a bronze medal at the National Competition held in South Kensington in which art students from all over the country submitted works in the hopes of being awarded medals or book prizes. The exhibition was meant to set a standard of excellence for the entire country.[3] By the end of 1875 Wasse was enrolled at the leading art school in Europe, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. There he studied with Karl Theodor von Piloty and Wilhem von Diez. A wonderful portrait by Beneš Knüpfer, depicting Wasse in the role of the dissolute student, captures this period succinctly and now hangs in the Manchester City Art Gallery. Wasse spent the latter half of the 1870s until 1895 continually commuting between Germany and England. In 1882 he became a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.[4] From 1882-1910 he exhibited works at the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Manchester City Art Gallery; Royal Academy; Royal Society of British Artists; and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.[5] Although known for his paintings of flowers, he created quite a stir at the 1887 Royal Academy Exhibition with Lancashire Pit Lasses at Work. Intended to express the deplorable working conditions of the Lancashire coal mines,[6] important critics such as George Bernard Shaw expressed his admiration by stating “Mr. Arthur Wasse has chosen a capital subject”,[7] while Arthur Joseph Munby (a diarist who spent thirty years documenting life in the English coalfields) described it as a “good and accurate” rendering.[8]

Having made previous visits as well as extended stays to Rothenburg, Wasse permanently settled there in 1895 and moved into the house located at Klingenbastei la depicted in this work.[9] By this point, Rothenburg had become an international artists’ colony as well as a tourist destination, the attraction being the town’s medieval architecture and idyllic natural setting. The influx of visitors ultimately transformed Rothenburg into a national symbol for Germanic heritage and values, with Wasse as its most dedicated interpreter. For the rest of his life he would remain enthralled by the city’s atmosphere and architecture along with the resultant play of light and shadow which he often depicted surrounded by its vibrant vegetation.[10] His body of work is regarded as the defining Romantic imagery of Rothenburg.[11]

Martha Faber, Wasse’s first biographer, wrote, “His most beautiful paintings were produced from his home in Rothenburg. Only in such isolation could Wasse’s artistic talent mature, develop and intensify”.[12] His house now marks the starting point for what is Arthur Wasse Weg, a path just beyond the city walls with lovely views of the valley below. Its entrance is through a door in the wall close to the Klingen Outer Gate. A Dr. Ludwig Scheider from Frankfurt recorded a visit to the Wasse home in 1930. He noted upon entering that Rebecca Fanny Pittar, Wasse’s wife, remarked, “Those are his flowers. My husband planted them himself, he loves flowers... He loves nature, he knows it, gathers her in, receives what she gives him, and gives back what he receives”. Scheider further described the house as, “Half dark. Thick carpet. Cushions, paintings, arabesques. No noise from the outside...paintings, paintings, paintings”. Faber recorded that Wasse did all his own gardening as he did not want “strange hands to disturb his loved ones.” She additionally remarked that “Completely insignificant flowers also found their place in the garden, where they could fully develop and one was often astonished at the richness of bloom and scent... Whether the master was conscious of putting together this color symphony in flashing yellow, blue, red and smoothest pink or not... who can say? But in any case they opened their beings to him...otherwise he would not have been able to paint them in the way that we admire in his pictures.” The birds that dwelt in Wasse’s garden were another beloved component. He erected protected nest boxes for his flock and aided in their care.[13]

The question arises as to why such a superb technician as Wasse remains almost unknown beyond the confines of Rothenburg. Wasse’s constant movement between England and Germany from 1875-1895 must be partially to blame. Mike Wasse, a descendant, believes another contributing factor, following the painter’s settling in Rothenburg, was the aftermath of the Boer War in 1902 when no one was buying paintings. Later during World War I Wasse was declared an undesirable alien and largely confined to his house. Few tourists visited the town once the war ended, decimating what had been a major source of income.[14] Also the abandonment of exhibiting works in major venues after 1910 all but assured the eclipse of the painter’s reputation. These circumstances were further compounded by the fact that Wasse, did not like to sell his works and sold no more than was absolutely necessary. He was described as “a reticent man who built a gentle but uncrossable wall of reserve between himself and his nearest acquaintances in Rothenburg”.[15]

Dorothy J. Smith, in her 1971 article “The Bavarian Exile of Arthur Wasse”, questioned if, “The Wasses’ secluded life meant for the artist a turning aside from the places where the action was”... “Were a certain retreat and escapism involved in his choice, or was it sacrifice? – the sacrifice to his own nature that a person who dislikes city life, but could profit by its advantages, makes when he opts for rural peace of mind”.[16] Whatever the reason, the answer is that the end (or in this case the art) justifies the means. After Wasse’s death his widow donated fifty-eight of his most important paintings to the city of Rothenburg, they now hang in the Reichsstadtmuseum. In 2004 to mark the 150th anniversary of Wasse’s birth a retrospective of his work was mounted in Rothenburg at the museum. Other paintings are in the Manchester City Art Gallery and Harris Museum, Preston, Great Britain.

This is a deeply personal work painted for friends in which the painter’s heart is on display. Although the significance of Albert and Emilie Therkelsen to Wasse is unknown, the painting defines the importance of the relationship. The Therkelsens later gifted the work to a close friend who kept it for the rest of his life and then it descended within the family. Due to its cherished treatment the painting’s condition is pristine. Wasse’s reputation has been hidden in the shadows for decades; the mysterious power and beauty of The Artist’s Home is a just awakening.

We are grateful to Drew Adam, Robert Goeken, Mike Wasse, and Dr. Hellmuth Möhring, director of the Reichsstadtmuseum, Rothenburg, for their assistance in the writing of this entry.

 

 

[1] Ann Thwaite, Waiting for the Party, The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849-1924, David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston, 1991, p. 231.

[2] Biographical information taken from Ian Wasse, Arthur Cramer James Wasse, unpublished history of the Wasse family, unpaginated; Marjorie Gregson & A. Matthews, “Goodbye by Arthur Wasse” on Lytham St. Annes Art Collection, lythamstannesartcollection.org website; and Dr. Hellmuth Möhring, on info@diegutestube.de website.

[3] “List of Students Rewarded at the National Competition” in Reports from Commissioners, Inspectors, and Others, volume XXVI, 1875, p. 398; and Walter Crane, “South Kensington and its Art Training and National Competition” in The Report of the Departmental Committee in South Kensington and its Art Training, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1912, p. 36.

[4] Ian Wasse, op. cit.; Marjorie Gregson & A. Matthews, op. cit.; and Dr. Hellmuth Möhring, op. cit..

[5] J. Johnson & A. Greutzner, eds., “Arthur Wasse” in The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, 1988, p. 530; and Christopher Wood, “Arthur Wasse” in The Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, 1989, p. 499.

[6] Joshua Hagen, Preservation, Tourism and Nationalism, The Jewel of the German Past, Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, VT., 2006, p. 83.

[7] Stanley Weintraub, ed., Bernard Shaw on the London Art Scene 1885-1950, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989, p. 166.

[8] Angela V. John, By the Sweat of their Brow, Women Workers at Victorian coal mines, Routledge, Oxon, 2006, unpaginated.

[9] Dr. Hellmuth Möhring, op. cit..

[10] Joshua Hagen, op. cit., pp. 79, 83.

[11] “The Romantic Road” in Frommer’s Europe, Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2004, p. 450.

[12] Martha Faber, Arthur Wasse und sein Werk: ein Rothenberger Kunstlerleben, Rothenburg O. Tauber, Verein Alt-Rothenburg, 1936 (translation taken from Ian Wasse), unpaginated.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Written communication from Mike Wasse, dated November 18, 2015.

[15] Dorothy J. Smith, “The Bavarian Exile of Arthur Wasse” in Queen’s Quarterly, 1971, p. 97.

[16] Ibid.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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