Salzburg’s Lake District is a Biedermeier Favorite

Austria

At the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, a yearning to experience nature gripped the Biedermeier bourgeoisie as much as it inspired painters, musicians and scientists. A new lifestyle was born.

Who was Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller?

Waldmüller was born in 1793 in Vienna and died in 1865 in Hinterbrühl just outside of Vienna. He left his parents’ house at the age of fourteen to start studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. At the beginning of his career, he earned his keep by painting miniature portraits which were very popular with the well-to-do bourgeoisie. In Agram (today’s Zagreb), he worked as the drawing tutor of count Gyulay and there met his first wife, court opera singer Katharina Weidner. Her career led them to Brno, Prague, Baden and then back to Vienna, and Waldmüller earned money as stage and prop painter. Back in Vienna, he accepted commissions as portrait painter for aristocrats. The request to paint the portrait of Emperor Franz I. was the highlight of his career.

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Travels

His first trips took him to Italy and France, where his talent was increasingly recognised. Spending the summer in the Salzburg Lake District was en vogue at the time and Waldmüller went there frequently to immortalise the panoramic views and scenic mountain and lake vistas in many paintings which are exhibited worldwide today.

    hiking around the Gosau lakes (Vorderer Gosausee)

Financial Difficulties

At the time of his second marriage with the Viennese milliner Anna Bayer, his financial circumstances were dire. His wife’s salon sometimes doubled as an art gallery since he could not afford other locations. He stayed afloat financially by tutoring private students until his career received one last boost.

    rowboat at lake (Vorderer Gosausee)

Career

Waldmüller’s career was crowned by his appointment to the council of the Academy of Fine Arts. However, his reformative approach was not welcomed and his tenure was suspended.

    The Dachstein with Lake Gosau, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

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Financial Difficulties

At the time of his second marriage with the Viennese milliner Anna Bayer, his financial circumstances were dire. His wife’s salon sometimes doubled as an art gallery since he could not afford other locations. He stayed afloat financially by tutoring private students until his career received one last boost.

    rowboat at lake (Vorderer Gosausee)

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Worldwide Fame

An exhibition at Buckingham Palace and the participation at the historic art exhibition in Cologne and an international art show in London brought him the worldwide renown he deserved. One year before his death, Emperor Franz Joseph I. officially recognised him as a valued artist.

    Exhibition view Hundertwasser - Schiele, Imagine Tomorrow / Leopold Museum Vienna

Quote from the book “Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller” by Rupert Feuchtmüller:

„In 1932, a trip led Ferdinand G. Waldmüller to the Gosausee, one of the most beloved motifs of Biedermeier Alpine paintings. He might have been the last of the Biedermeier generation of painters, and his artistic goal was different than the ones of those who came before him. Unlike the younger Gauermann, he did not care about life on the mountains and pastures, nor about light effects such as those painted by Steinfeld. It was not his aim to tell a story, rather he wanted to capture nature, the famous view of the Dachstein mountain, as it was. 

Where Gauermann preferred the soft, gentle morning light, Waldmüller chose the evening sun which sets the snowy slopes of the Dachstein aglow. She basks the rocks in a slightly reddish light

and creates a strong contrast to the dark shadows and the blackish, blue-gray lake, which blurs the reflection of the mountain. Each detail of the rock face is made visible through the use of light and shadow. Short, strong brush strokes create this illusion. Even with considerable artistic freedom in the painting technique, he expressed a simple truth: This is reality. When, in 1834, he painted the Gosausee again in evening light, he chose the exact same spot; only the colors changed slightly from blueish grey and crystal clear tones to warmer colors and softer transitions. Again, he avoided the reflection in the lake which is so popular with photographers today. It is easy to see why Waldmüllers Gosa

Salzburg Lake District Then and Now

Kaiservilla, Bad Ischl / Bad Ischl
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Imperial Summer Stays at the Salzburg Lake District

The Salzburg Lake District lies at the heart of three Austrian regions or provinces: The Ausseerland in Styria, parts of the Flachgau of SalzburgerLand and the district of Gmunden in Upper Austria are all part of the geographic heart of what is called “Salzkammergut” in German. “Kammergut” was the 15th century term for land that belonged to the local ruler. The region received its name from the salt (“Salz”) deposits which had been profitably mined for over 1000 years.

Since the Habsburgs felt the need to spend their summers benefiting from the region’s fresh mountain air, nearly Vienna’s entire nobility followed the imperial household to the Salzburg Lake District. Villages such as Bad Ischl, Bad Aussee, Bad Goisern, Gosausee and many others enjoyed a cultural and intellectual high-point in three-quarter time, surrounded by Alpine and imperial elegance.

Schafbergbahn, Lake Wolfgangsee / Schafberg / Wolfgangsee
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A Popular Vacation Destination, Then and Now

The expansion of train lines and new ferry routes also attracted the well-to-do Bourgeoisie, and the Salzburg Lake District became one of the first and most beloved vacation destinations of contemporary high-society. The Habsburgs and their court had family connections to all of Europe, which ensured – through invitations to friends and family – that the reputation of the region spread far beyond Austria’s borders.

All this led to a demand of paintings by renowned Biedermeier landscape and portrait painters depicting various vistas of the Salzburg Lake District, and ensured that they were displayed in the salons of Vienna, Paris and Berlin.

Exhibition view Hundertwasser - Schiele, Imagine Tomorrow / Leopold Museum Vienna
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Leopold Museum

Rudolf and Elisabeth Leopold, a Viennese couple, were passionate art collectors. Aside from their day jobs as eye doctors, they had – starting in the 1950s – amassed a collection of far more than 5000 works of Austrian artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. The private collection of works by artists such as Egon Schiele is among the largest in the world. When the couple started collecting Schiele paintings, they were generally shunned and available at comparatively low prices. The collection was converted to a foundation and the Leopold Museum was founded and opened in 2001.

Today, the museum, which is part of Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, features the largest collection of Austrian art from the middle of the 19th century until the rise of Modernism. The masterpiece „Dachstein mit Gosausee“ by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller is part of the Leopold Museum’s collection.

rowboat at lake (Vorderer Gosausee)
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The Gosausee in Photography

It is really a series of three lakes that enhance the majestic views of the Dachstein Range: the Vorderer Gosausee, the Hinterer Gosausee and the Gosauer Lacke. This magical location is among the most beautiful natural landscapes in Austria. There are over 30.000 images with the hashtag #Gosausee to be found on Instagram. The popular vista, which was already so beloved with Biedermeier painters, has captured the heart of today’s photographers and influencer society.

The mountain lake (specifically the Vordere Gosausee) is also called „das Auge Gottes“ (God’s eye). The lake lies at the end of the Hinterthal near Gosau and the magical reflection of the Dachstein peak in its icy waters enchants anyone gazing upon this spectacular natural landscape.

Source: https://www.austria.info/