Gabriel von Max • Wilted
Oil on canvas
50.5 : 38.5 cm
Signed on the upper left corner
Second version of a painting with the same title in the Heinrich von Liebieg Collection
Friedrich von Boetticher, Malerwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts, 2 volumes, Dresden 1891-1901, vol. I,2, p. 92-98;
Exh. Cat., Sehen ist Alles. Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus Liberec / Reichenberg, Augsburg Schaetzlerpalais 2007, p. 124-129;
Exh. Cat., Kunstschätze des Mäzens Heinrich von Liebieg, Frankfurt am Main Museum Giersch 2012, p. 132f.
Gabriel Max was the son of a sculptor. He grew up in Prague and moved via Vienna to Munich where he, together with Hans Makart and Franz Defregger, became one of the master students of the internationally renowned history painter Carl Theodor von Piloty. From the mid-1860s onwards Max created a series of spectacular paintings with which he laid the foundation for his successful career as an artist.
The first of the many popular works that he painted while still enrolled at the art academy was The Christian Martyr (Saint Julia) (Frye Art Museum, Seattle) that was exhibited at the Munich Kunstverein and at the Paris World Exhibition in 1867. Max used this occasion to visit the capital of France and study the art scene there. He was particularly impressed by the Belgian salon painter Alfred Stevens, as Max’s genre paintings between the late 1860s to the mid-1870s testify. Wilted is one of the best-known examples of this phase of Max’s work.
The painting is arranged in a stage-like composition that directs the viewer’s gaze to an opulent bedroom where a young woman sits on the edge of a four-poster bed with velvet curtains. The dim light of the room and the view outside hint that it is early morning. A closer look reveals why the half-undressed female figure has buried her face into her right hand with an air of despair and is holding a loose thread of her undergarment between the fingers of her left hand. Her dress and bodice are lying on a chair next to the crumpled bed, a single glove and a tattered posy of violets lay on the floor to the right and a pair of shoes to the left. They are the relics of a glittering ball night that ended in an erotic climax and also the omen of a sobering awakening: there is little chance that the vanished beau who took the young lady’s virginity only a few hours ago will return. The abandoned woman clearly harbours no illusions, and realizing the loss of her innocence is much worse than her bitter disappointment about false promises of love. He has destroyed her reputation and left her void of any chance of making a respectful marriage match. Through her recklessness, she has lost her social status in a society characterised by a strict set of moral rules.
Gabriel von Max subtly creates an ambivalent mixture of intimacy and distance between the depicted and the viewer. The latter finds themselves in the role of a voyeur and confronted with a situation characterised by emotional and rational uncertainty. Max’s contemporaries may have felt compassion with the young woman whilst fully understanding the warning message not to ignore the moral codex and not dare to come into conflict with the established rules laid down by society. Regardless of how we may perceive and judge the situation that Max describes in Wilted, today it becomes clear why the artist was called a “painter of the soul” during his lifetime.
Gabriel von Max
1840 Prague - 1915 Munich
Born into a family of artists, Gabriel Max trained in his home town of Prague, continuing his training in Vienna. He moved to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Art under Carl Theodor von Piloty from 1863-7. Like his fellow students Hans Makart and Franz Defregger, Max was to emerge as one of the most successful painters of the Wilhelminian period. Piloty and Max shared a taste for dark historical subjects. But where Piloty chose to depict fateful events in the lives of some of Europe’s most illustrious figures, his pupil sought out obscure literary themes and striking motifs drawn from religious and mystic tradition.
Max’s breakthrough came when his painting Martyr on the Cross (The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), first shown at the Munich Kunstverein, was exhibited at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867. The work depicts a youth in classical dress bidding farewell to a young woman martyred for refusing to renounce her Christian belief. The work was widely praised by critics and public alike – not so much for its religious content as for Max’s overtly emotional and erotically charged handling of the subject. Other similarly powerful, erotically charged works followed, among them The Anatomist (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) executed in 1869, Faded (Regionalgalerie, Reichenberg) executed in 1870 and The Child Murderer (Kunsthalle, Hamburg), executed in 1877.
In the 1870s, leading researchers into parapsychology such as Carl Du Prel and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing introduced Max to the world of somnambulism, spiritualism and the occult. He participated in seances during which attempts were made to communicate with the dead through a medium. Paintings such as Geistesgruß (present whereabouts unknown) were inspired by these experiences. He also developed an interest in visionaries and mystics from the past. Products of this interest are the two paintings Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick in Ecstasy (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and The Seeress of Prevorst (National Gallery, Prague), painted in 1885 and 1892. The perceived ability of mystics to transcend the boundaries between this life and the next provided the perfect inspiration for a pictorial rendering of psychological drama that was to become the hallmark of his oeuvre. Works like these rapidly brought him celebrity status across Europe and in the United States. His mystic, melancholic imagery was widely disseminated thanks to technological change and the emergence of a burgeoning industry in the reproduction of artworks.
Max’s anthropological interests are clearly visible in his work. He studied Darwin’s theories of evolution and assembled one of the most extensive contemporary collections of ethnographic and anthropological material. He surrounded himself with a family of monkeys, sometimes keeping as many as fourteen in his house at the same time. It was a fascination that developed out of his research into the origins of the human race. The monkeys served him in his scientific studies and as models for his paintings. By bestowing on animals the attributes of human behaviour he held up a mirror to society. The most prominent example in the series is a painting now in the collection of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich titled Monkeys as Judges of Art (1889), in which he mocks the judgements of contemporary art critics. In later years his attitude towards his fellow human beings and their lack of respect for creation grew increasingly acerbic. None the less, this did not diminish the popularity of his work. Conversely, the man himself – in his time undoubtedly one of the most eccentric personalities in Munich artistic circles – was publicly eclipsed by his own oeuvre.
Unknown photographer: Gabriel von Max with a young baboon, 1902