The Crocker Art Museum has one of the finest and earliest German drawings collections in the United States. Featuring artists such as Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner, Anton Raphael Mengs and Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, The Splendor of Germany examines the major developments in German draughtsmanship over the course of the eighteenth century. Published to coincide with the collection's 150th anniversary.
In the 21st century, the collecting and study of 18th-century German drawings has become a major focus for American museums. One of the finest collections of them, however, has been in California for 150 years. The superb drawings at the Crocker Art Museum, from a Baroque altarpiece design by Johann Georg Bergmuller to a Neoclassical mythology by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, provide a panorama of German draughtsmen and draughtsmanship throughout the century.
Many of the drawings are remarkable for their modernity. A self-portrait by Johann Gottlieb Prestel bypasses convention to achieve a direct, unmediated likeness. Well-placed slashes with brush and black ink define the features below his peruke outlined in black chalk.
Other drawings encapsulate specific developments and styles, such as Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner's Lazarus and the Rich Man, which shows the florid dynamism of the Augsburg Rococo. A full range of eighteenth-century German artists are represented here, from the satirizing moralists Johann Elias Ridinger and Daniel Chodowiecki to the Classicist and friend of the art theorist Johann Joachim Winkelmann, Anton Raphael Mengs. Landscape artists are especially well represented, such as the key figure Johann Georg Wille, printmaker to the French king Louis XV, and generations of artists he taught and influenced all the way to the early Romantic landscapists.
The exhibition and catalogue gather together a variety of dynamic and sensitive portraits, charming scenes of daily life, and often humorous moralizing subjects, as well as narratives, both religious and mythological, from the late Baroque to Neoclassicism. In the realm of landscape, the depth of the collection allows the exhibition to trace schools and influences-in addition to Wille's mentioned above-even in families such as that of Prestel, whose wife and daughter were both landscapists. It also allows it to demonstrate the great variety of works by single artists such as Christoph Nathe, represented by four landscapes in four different genres including a splendid scene near Goerlitz.
Some artists, in fact, work in several genres as in the case of Johann Christian Klengel, whose works include the scene of a family by candlelight, a farmstead landscape, and a sketchbook that he carried through the countryside to record picturesque views. This is a rare opportunity for the public and for drawings enthusiasts. Two-thirds of the drawings in the exhibition have not been shown before; most of the exceptions have not been seen since 1989.
Because of the drawings' 150-year history of limited exposure, the state of preservation of the collection is exceptional, as is the condition of the new acquisitions included in the exhibition.