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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–“Meissen in Winter” by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme

Ernst Ferdinand Oehme (German, 1797–1855), Meissen in Winter, 1854. Oil on canvas; 27 x 23 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.105. Photo credit P. Richard Eells.
Ernst Ferdinand Oehme (German, 1797–1855), Meissen in Winter, 1854. Detail. Oil on canvas; 27 x 23 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.105. Photo credit P. Richard Eells.

[We hope that you enjoy this re-posted 2012 blog post in honor of the holiday season! ]

Speaking of the holidays, one of my favorite paintings in the Museum Collection is Meissen in Winter by German artist Ernst Ferdinand Oehme. Oehme (pronounced EHR-ma) shows us a snowy street in the German town, with the church tower silhouetted against the dusky sky, and a single star shining brightly.

I’ve seen many evenings like this in Wisconsin!

A few inhabitants have braved the cold, crisp air in this Meissen scene: a couple is talking a walk, a man makes his way up the hill, and a gentleman in the foreground has stopped to gaze up at a brightly lit bay window with a cheerfully decorated Christmas tree shown in the detail at left.

The holiday scene is subtle, quiet and calm—and clearly chilly—but I think that the happy glow of that window and the hopeful promise of the single star in the darkening sky are reassuring in what could be a desolate winter scene.

I see hope in that star, and spirit.

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Art Curatorial

German Tankards and Steins: Part 8–Character Steins

VEB Porzellanmanufactur Plaue (Plaue, Germany, established 1816). "Singing Pig" Stein, ca. 1900. Glazed hard paste porcelain, colored underglaze decoration, and pewter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.984. Photo by Melissa Hartly Omholt.
VEB Porzellanmanufactur Plaue (Plaue, Germany, established 1816). “Singing Pig” Stein, ca. 1900. Glazed hard paste porcelain, colored underglaze decoration, and pewter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.984. Photo by Melissa Hartly Omholt.

Ready for some more laughs? In this post, we’ll be looking at more German steins meant to be amusing.

The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century meant that more goods could be produced quickly and more people could afford those goods. Developments in the technique for shaping ceramics meant that steins didn’t have to be a standard shape—they could be molded in all sorts of ways. And, in a never-ending quest for novelty, they were!

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Art Curatorial

German Tankards and Steins: Part 6–Mettlach and the Germany Identity

Villeroy & Boch (Mettlach, Saarland, Germany, established 1836), designed by Heinrich Schlitt (German, 1849–1923). "2765" Stein, 1902. Stoneware, with colored slip and glaze decoration, and pewter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.848. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.
Villeroy & Boch (Mettlach, Saarland, Germany, established 1836), designed by Heinrich Schlitt (German, 1849–1923). “2765” Stein, 1902. Stoneware, with colored slip and glaze decoration, and pewter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.848. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.

Last time, we looked at the historical context for artwork in late nineteenth century Germany. In 1871, Germany officially became a unified country. This time, we’ll look at the cultural ramifications of the unification and how it impacted art.

Although German-speaking princes had been allied for centuries, the individual provinces needed to strengthen their commitment in order to counter military and economic competition from other countries such as Austria and France. But just because the people in the new country spoke German and shared much in the way of their cultural identity didn’t mean that they felt like a big happy family.  And the disruptive forces of the industrial revolution did nothing to help the sense of confusion and frustration.

The people of the German Empire needed to ask themselves: what does it mean to be German? The imagery on Mettlach steins of the time offers some interesting answers to that question.

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Art Curatorial

German Tankards and Steins: Part 5–Introduction to Late 19th Century Germany

Villeroy & Boch (Mettlach, Saarland, Germany, established 1836), designed by Christian Warth (German, active 1854–1892). "1395" Stein, 1885. Stoneware with colored slip and glaze decoration, gilding and pewter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Dorothy Trommel in memory of her parents, Eunice and Howard Wertenberg M2013.43.  Photo credit: John Glembin.
Villeroy & Boch (Mettlach, Saarland, Germany, established 1836), designed by Christian Warth (German, active 1854–1892). “1395” Stein, 1885. Stoneware with colored slip and glaze decoration, gilding and pewter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Dorothy Trommel in memory of her parents, Eunice and Howard Wertenberg M2013.43. Photo credit: John Glembin.

Over the past year, we’ve taken a look at some of the German drinking vessels in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection.  The subjects have ranged from luxurious silver tankards to early stoneware vessels, and from high-quality Meissen porcelain to the prized tin-glazed earthenware that was developed to mimic it.

Now we’ve come to the end of the 19th century, the time of the most dramatic changes for the German drinking vessels.  This was due to a powerful combination of events.

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Art Curatorial

German Tankards and Steins: Part 4—Porcelain

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Possibly Johann Gregorius Horoldt (German, 1696-1775), Tankard, ca. 1725. Glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze decoration, gilding, and brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1995.2. Photo: John Glembin
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Possibly Johann Gregorius Horoldt (German, 1696-1775), Tankard, ca. 1725. Glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze decoration, gilding, and brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1995.2. Photo: John Glembin

Last month, we demystified tin-glazed earthenware while putting it into a historical context. This month, we’ll figure out the magic behind the material that tin-glazed earthenware attempted to fill in for: porcelain.

Introduced to Europe from China in the fourteenth century, porcelain was the most elegant and fascinating of materials. It was pristine, white yet translucent, and although it was thin and light-weight, it was also amazingly strong and durable. In other words, it was everything that tin-glazed earthenware and stoneware was not.