FRANKFURT.- In the departments for the conservation of painting and graphic arts at the Frankfurt Städel, work on the museum’s Hans Thoma (1839–1924) holdings is presently in progress at full speed. The reason: this summer, the Städel Museum is opening a major survey on the lifework of the famous painter and graphic artist. From 3 July to 29 September 2013, the special exhibition “Hans Thoma: ‘The German People’s Favourite Painter” will be devoted to an artist once celebrated by the public and art critics alike as the “greatest German master”.
With nearly ninety paintings and several hundred works on paper, the Städel Museum has in its possession one of the world’s most extensive Thoma collections. In a show that will draw on these holdings, the artist’s complex oeuvre will be critically examined with the aim of showing that Thoma was far more than just the painter of picturesque Black Forest landscapes with which he is commonly associated today. The Städel survey aims, on the contrary, to introduce an oeuvre that will doubtless prove unexpectedly multifaceted for many visitors – with regard to the motifs and themes as well as the artistic media employed. The spectrum of Thoma’s art encompasses not only paintings and prints but also wall decorations, calendars and postcard books as well as primers for children. Born in 1839 in the Black Forest town of Oberlehen near Bernau, Hans Thoma depicted religious and mythological scenes as well as motifs from the operas of Richard Wagner. With a wide range of different pictorial genres and themes, he catered to a public that was hoping for an art that would provide it with values and contents suitable for establishing a national identity.
“Particularly in the area of German art of the nineteenth century, much still remains to be discovered. In our exhibition, many people will experience the entire spectrum of the diverse and often surprisingly modern oeuvre of Hans Thoma for the first time – the lifework of an artist who, in his day, played a central role in German art and society”, comments Max Hollein, director of the Städel Museum. “Thoma’s role as a key figure in ‘German art’ around 1900 – an exploitation which continued until well into the National Socialist era – renders him a phenomenon that demands reassessment”, adds Felix Krämer, head of the Department of Modern Art at the Städel and curator of the exhibition.
The show to take place in the exhibition annex will examine the causes of the enormous popularity Thoma enjoyed in Germany around the turn of the century. It will moreover inquire into the societal circumstances that led to the painter’s broad impact, while also seeking to explain why Thoma fell increasingly into oblivion after 1945. In the process, the Städel Museum will also take a closer look at its own collecting history. Hans Thoma received substantial support especially from Henry Thode, director of the Städel Museum from 1889 to 1891. Light will also be shed on the Städel Museum’s purchasing policies during the 1930s, especially in view of the fact a large share of its Thoma holdings came to the museum in 1939.
When the present restoration work is completed, many works which slumbered in the Städel Museum storeroom for decades will appear in entirely new splendour and thus await rediscovery in the Städel Museum show. It will be the first survey exhibition on Hans Thoma to take place in Germany for more than thirty years.