Franz von Lenbach

Franz von Lenbach, Selbstbildnis mit Frau und Töchtern, 1903




Franz von Lenbach (1836 – 1904) was a central protagonist in the late-nineteenth-century rise of Munich as an almost mythical center of the arts. Born to a lower-middle-class family, he was trained at the Academy of Fine Arts; after 1870, he became a celebrated portraitist and honed his image as an urbane artist and virtuoso of his craft. As an outward reflection of his great artistic and financial success, he carefully crafted his public persona: next to his private residence, he built a magnificent studio that was open to the public; visitors would find him standing at the easel dressed in an elegant suit. Lenbach was regarded as the leading German portraitist of his era. An unending procession of prominent members of society came to have their portraits painted. His technique was inspired by Old Masters such as Rubens, Titian, and Veronese, but he was not above availing himself of the new medium of photography as well. Painting in his signature style, he created portraits of the pope, of emperors and kings, of elegant ladies and eminent politicians and businessmen. His conception of art defined the public face and image of the high society as well as the rising upper middle classes of the late nineteenth century. His wedding to Magdalena Countess Moltke and his second marriage to Lolo von Hornstein were important tokens of his social advancement. His family, and especially his daughters Marion and Gabriele, whom he captured in sophisticated portraits that circulated in large numbers of reproductions, became public figures. Lenbach’s large circle of friends included the painters Hans Makart and Friedrich August von Kaulbach, Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima, his teacher Carl Theodor von Piloty, the writer and Nobel Prize winner Paul Heyse, and the sculptors Lorenz Gedon and Reinhold Begas. With his carefully groomed lifestyle, Lenbach himself came to epitomize the idea of the prince of painters, a position many of his Munich colleagues likewise aspired to. On the other hand, he took a very critical view of the innovations in art that began to appear toward the turn of the century, and so he also paradigmatically embodied what the artists of the Secession and subsequently the Blue Rider wanted to break free from.

» I intend to build a palace for myself that will eclipse everything the world has seen; it will link the power centers of European high art to the world of the present.«

Franz von Lenbach 1885


If the exteriors of Lenbach’s villa articulated his aspirations, its interiors were no less magnificent. Residential and representative rooms as well as the studio and gallery wing were lavishly decorated in various historic styles. The interior designs documented the resident’s comprehensive cultural knowledge and connoisseurship as well as his success as an artist. The ample original furnishings included valuable ancient sculptures, medieval paintings, rare carpets and tapestries, and copies of objects such as antique reliefs when originals could not be had. To heighten the effect, the rooms were kept semi-dark so that everything was bathed in an atmosphere of mystery. (Behind the scenes, Lenbach’s was one of the most modern homes in Munich: it had electric light throughout and featured steam heating, a bathroom, and a photo studio.)

This magnificence gave outward expression to how Lenbach’s time envisioned the life of a “prince of painters.” The villa was a suitable representative setting also for guests of the highest rank: when Prince Bismarck, whose public image had been shaped by the numerous portraits Lenbach had painted of him, visited the Bavarian capital in 1892, he received the ovations of the people of Munich on the balcony of Lenbach’s home. After the buildings suffered major damage in 1944 and 1945, only the foyer and the representative rooms on the first floor of the central wing could be reconstructed; work was completed in 1952. The original colors of the entrance hall were restored in 1994; in 1996, curators, relying on old photographs, recreated the representative rooms with the original furniture and art objects. The reconstructed historic rooms in the former residence are devoted to Lenbach’s art and the atmosphere he created in his home. The presentation features an extensive selection of works from his art collection, the villa’s original interiors, and Lenbach’s own paintings.

In 1983, Gerhard Merz created a cycle of paintings for Lenbach’s representative rooms that engage with the “shockumentary” Mondo Cane (1962). The entire group pays homage to Yves Klein, as is most evident in the picture Monochromy-Ultramarine.

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Public guided tours
several times a day
Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin

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