Art, Getty Research Institute, Prints and Drawings

Philipp Otto Runge’s “Times of Day,” A Monument of German Romantic Art

Morning from the Times of Day suite / Philipp Otto Runge

Morning from Times of Day, 1805, Philipp Otto Runge. Printmaker: J.G. Seyfert. Etching and Engraving. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.PR.35**

Philipp Otto Runge (1777–1810) is not a household name in the U.S., and his suite of four prints commonly known as the Times of Day are rarely seen here. We are fortunate to have recently acquired one of the extremely rare surviving sets of the first edition in a fantastic state of preservation. (Learn more about the acquisition and see all four prints here.)

Along with Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), Runge was a leading painter and theorist of the German Romantic movement. We now think of him as having rejected the tradition of academic painting in favor of highly personal art form that symbolizes the essential harmony of nature, humanity, and the divine. This in a way is true, but it’s equally valid to say that he relied, in part, on classical imagery to express the radical notions he absorbed from the likes of Baroque mystics who interpreted the world as metaphors and symbols. If this sounds complicated, it is. Runge’s creations, like other great masterpieces, are the subject of debate and open to interpretation. And while it’s hard work to interpret the exact meaning of the images, it’s easy to be seduced by their beauty and elegance. The Times of DayMorning, Evening, Day, and Night—is a monument of German Romanticism and a milestone in the history of Western art.

Evening from the Times of Day suite / Philipp Otto Runge

Evening from Times of Day, 1805, Philipp Otto Runge. Printmaker: J.G. Seyfert. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.PR.35**

From 1802 until his untimely death at the age of 33 in 1810, Runge worked obsessively on these images, carefully articulating every aspect of their compositions. Early in the planning stages, he made four large outline drawings in preparation for the printed images. The first, small edition of the engravings was published in 1805 and captures the delicacy of Runge’s carefully constructed preparatory drawings.  Runge’s original motivation to have his designs engraved was not commercial, as may have been the case when the second, altered edition was published in 1807. In fact, he shared the first edition with artists and writers in order to circulate his new ideas and to announce plans to create a large painting cycle based upon the designs. The painted cycle was never completed, which means that the prints provide a rare opportunity to glimpse Runge’s brilliance.

Admirers of these images are in good company, because their delicate purity was praised by none other than the towering figure of 18th-century German literature, culture, and science, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He displayed a set of the Times of Day in his music room, where he apparently exclaimed to a visitor, “it’s enough to drive you crazy, beautiful, and mad at the same time!”

The idea behind the “mad” iconography of Times of Day is the coming and departing of light, which points to the cycles of life from conception to death. Runge summarized his images with the following statements (in his original German, followed by English translation):

Der Morgen ist die grenzenlose Erleuchtung des Universums.
Der Tag ist die grenzenlose Gestaltung der Kreatur, die das Universum erfüllt.
Der Abend ist die grenzenlose Vernichtung der Existenz in den Ursprung des Universums.
Die Nacht ist die grenzenlose Tiefe der Erkenntniß von der unvertilgten Existenz in Gott

Morning is the boundless illumination of the universe.
Day is the boundless formation of the creature that fills the universe.
Evening is the boundless annihilation of existence into the origin of the universe.
Night is the boundless depth of the realization of the unobliterated existence in God.

Tagged , , , , , , , , Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Tumblr

    • photo from Tumblr

      #ProvenancePeek: Winslow Homer at the Met

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      The provenance of this Winslow Homer marine, or seascape, is relatively straightforward as these things go. It was entered into the stock books of M. Knoedler and Co, prominent New York art dealers, in October of 1901. Knoedler & Co purchased the painting, titled Cannon Rock, from Chicago pastor and educator Dr. Frank Gunsaulus on October 24, 1901. Just over two weeks later, on November 9, the firm sold it to art collector and dry goods merchant George Arnold Hearn. Hearn made a gift of his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1906, and that is where Cannon Rock has lived ever since.

      This seascape is one of Homer’s later works, notable for its flatness. Homer spent the last 25 years of his life living in coastal Maine, painting land- and seascapes that both respect and challenge nature’s authority. Cannon Rock’s mellow provenance tale belies the powerful scene it presents.

      The stock books of the Knoedler Gallery have recently been transformed into a searchable database which anyone can query for free.

      Cannon Rock, 1895, Winslow Homer. Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of George A. Hearn, 1906 (above); pages from the Knoedler stock and sales books listing the painting (below).


      #ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into #onthisday provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archives at the Getty Research Institute.


  • Flickr