Two genres are dominant — leitmotifs, one might say — in the Lenbachhaus’s holdings of earlier art: portraits and landscapes. The preeminent early modern painting is Jan Polack’s Portrait of a Young Man, which was created in the 1490s. The artist’s name suggests Polish roots; around 1500, his was the most famous and busiest workshop in Munich.
In the fifteenth century, the number of portraits being produced grew as more and more princes and bourgeois clients commissioned paintings in which their faces were the central objects of attention. In Europe north of the Alps, the verism of Early Netherlandish painting, which emerged around 1430, laid the foundations for the rise of portraiture as one of the most important functions of painting. Artists now learned to capture the individual’s unique physical features as well as record the sitter’s rank and social status.
The collection includes numerous depictions of members of the nobility as well as bourgeois sitters from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Among them are works by George Desmarées, which exemplify the international style known as rococo, and Johann Georg Edlinger, the leading painter of characteristic faces in late-eighteenth-century Munich, as well as Maria Electrine von Freyberg’s delightful portrait of a child, her niece Natalie Stuntz.
In Joseph Hauber’s Portrait of the Scheichenpflueg Family (1811), the positions, dress, and postures of the sitters indicate that the client is a member of the wealthy upper middle class. The picture shows a moment — the father is reading a letter to his wife and children — that enables the painter to capture the individual features of the family members. The distinctness of the contours and the lively colors — in particular, the vigorous reds — recall works of French portraitists such as Jacques-Louis David. In their artless simplicity, the father and daughter embody an ideal articulated by the thinkers of the time around 1800, which was marked by profound transformations: the human being unshackled by convention.
In the portraiture of the Biedermeier, an emphatically bourgeois culture, the subjects are limned in detail-oriented and often carefully painted manner. The works in the Lenbachhaus’s collections — by Joseph Karl Stieler, Franz Sales Lochbihler, Heinrich Maria Hess, Moritz Kellerhoven, and Moritz von Schwind, among others — include conspicuously many self portraits and likenesses of artist friends.