SPITZWEG UND SCHLEICH
Eduard Schleich the Elder (1812 – 74), an important pioneer of en plein air painting in Germany, was an autodidact who honed his talent with nature studies he produced in the Bavarian Alps. He first met Carl Spitzweg (1808 – 85), a pharmacist by training who similarly taught himself to paint, in the mid-1830s, when both frequented the circle of artists such as Thomas Fearnley, Heinrich Crola, and Christian E. B. Morgenstern who rejected academic convention. Together, they copied the Old Masters and roamed Bavaria and Tyrol looking for new motifs. The evolution of their art took a decisive turn in 1851, when they traveled to Paris, where they became acquainted with the Barbizon school’s paintings; they went on to visit the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in London and encountered the work of John Constable and Richard Parkes Bonington. These discoveries led both to a new form of “intimate landscape painting” that would become a characteristic style of Munich art in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The friendship between the two artists was so close that they assisted each other in completing their pictures. It is reported, for example, that Schleich helped Spitzweg with painting his skies, while Spitzweg inserted figures into Schleich’s landscapes.
In many of Spitzweg’s landscapes, the human accessories are tiny; almost the entire pictorial space is reserved for nature. What made Spitzweg famous, however, were his pictures in small formats: scenes of everyday life in the Biedermeier era, portraits of oddballs and old fogeys, romantic incidents. The Childhood Friends shows two unequal friends — one returning from his travels to distant lands, the other stepping over the threshold of a home he has barely left — meeting as though on a stage. As in many of his pictures, Spitzweg skillfully characterizes his figures in a style primarily associated with English and French caricaturists: lifelong monomaniacal devotion to a particular pursuit manifests itself as a deformation of the human being’s outward appearance, producing a grotesque and yet endearing original.