Biedermeier: The term B. - originally a derogatory name mocking conventional middle class comfort - was coined by A. Kußmaul and L. Eichrodt between 1855 and 1857 to describe the lifestyle of the Vormärz period (pre-revolutionary period in Austria and Germany before 1848). The term has come to characterize the lifestyle and mentality as well as art and culture of the period between 1815 and 1848. Art historians, however, use it primarily to describe interior design of the period.
The characteristics of the Biedermeier "can be found all over Europe, but they were particularly evident in Austria during the Metternich era" (W. Kayser). In Austria, the Biedermeier culture penetrated all social classes and was therefore able to reach a level of pureness and sophistication hardly to be found anywhere else.
An important factor that furthered the development of the Biedermeier was the disappointment felt after the political restauration of 1815 and the subsequent withdrawal of the citizens from political and public life. After the solemn Baroque and dainty Rococo, the Biedermeier style constituted an escape into a snug, secluded life of pleasure. In Chancellor Metternich's police state, the bourgeoisie, although well off and respected, was excluded from any official business. As a consequence, personal, purely private interests became increasingly important. People went dancing, on daytrips to the country, or visited amusement parks, theatres, coffeehouses or a Heurigen tavern to forget about the struggles of everyday life with its social problems and the highly unstable political situation.
Art and culture played an important role in the Biedermeier lifestyle, and the rising middle class actively supported all the various arts. The salons of these influential patrons became the homes of writers, composers, painters and sculptors as well as representatives of other areas of cultural life. Literary circles were organised, as well as soirees, discussions etc. For a young artist, an invitation to such an event could make or break his/her career.
The literature of the B. period in Austria contains elements of classical and romantic works and was - unlike the liberal democratic ideas of the "Junges Deutschland" (Young Germany) movement - was mostly unpolitical. It projects a quiet intimacy based on self-control and resignation, its main principle being the "sanfte Gesetz" (gentle law) of nature. Typical writers of the B. period were A. Stifter (theoretical discourse in the preface to "Bunte Steine": "Das sanfte Gesetz", "Der Nachsommer"), F. Raimund, F. Grillparzer, E. v. Bauernfeld, F. Halm, I. F. Castelli, E. v. Feuchtersleben, J. G. Seidl etc.
Although B. literature consisted primarily of epic works, theatre in Vienna flourished despite the strict censorship laws, with dialect folk plays by F. Raimund and J. Nestroy, which served as an outlet for people's secret thoughts and frustrations. Noted writers of the B. period were N. Lenau, A. Grün, J. G. Seidl and F. Stelzhamer.
In music, too, the balance shifted: The interested and generous patrons were no longer members of the nobility, but of the middle class. In 1812, the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde" (Association of Friends of Music) was founded, later the "Singverein" and the "Singakademie", followed by the "Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra" in 1842. Family music became highly popular, quartets were set up and musical circles ("Schubertiaden") held in the houses of the bourgeoisie. Light music (Viennese waltz) also flourished. It was in fact during these years that Vienna gained its reputation as the centre of classical music.
Painting during the B. period moved away from the historical subjects of the classical period. Painters now focused on depicting realistic scenes of daily life.
B. painting was characterised by charming, contemplative subjects and a great love of detail. Despite these characteristics, a certain amount of social criticism is at times discernible, especially in genre painting, which originated from 16th century Dutch painting and reached new heights during the B. period. Its most important representatives in Austria were J. Danhauser, P. Fendi, C. Schindler, F. G. Waldmüller (up to a certain point), J. M. Neder, E. Ritter, F. Gauermann, J. B. Reiter, J. M. Ranftl and F. Treml.
Along with genre painting, landscape painting also flourished. Artists increasingly began to travel through the Alps, the countries of the Habsburg monarchy and Italy and on their travels painted realistic, often deeply personal landscape portraits showing for example untouched corners or conveying a wildly romantic, adventurous atmosphere. Portraying the forces of nature, thunderstorms, floods, volcanic eruptions or solar eclipses, is a typical feature of the Romantic-Naturalist school of painting. The most important landscape painters of the B. were F. G. Waldmüller, F. Gauermann, J. Höger, F. Steinfeld, R. M. Toma, R. v. Alt, T. Ender and A. Stifter.
The love of naturalistic detail is also evident in the countless floral still lifes (e.g. by J. Lauer, J. Nigg, J. Knapp, S. Wegmayr, F. X. Petter) and herbaries (e.g. by M. M. Daffinger, J. Alt) as well as in large series of drawings of insects and the like.
Portrait painting became one of the most important branches of pictorial art (e.g. M. M. Daffinger), and miniatures were particularly popular. Due to the rise in status of the middle classes, a whole new group of clients had evolved who were eager to have their portraits painted. Very popular were single or group portraits as well as family portraits by F. G. Waldmüller, F. v. Amerling, J. N. Ender, A. Einsle, M. M. Daffinger, F. Eybl, L. Kupelwieser, J. P. Krafft and J. Kriehuber. In the mid - 19th century, however, photography gradually began to overtake portrait painting in popularity. Picture copying techniques were greatly promoted by the development of lithography. Within only a few years, various famous art print and publishing houses were opened in Vienna, concentrating on publishing documentary series like topographical landscape series, folders containing natural history prints or prints portraying different professions and humorous scenes as well as fashion and portrait prints.
Sculpture played a negligible role during the Biedermeier period. Most of the very few large sculptures were modelled when soft, some also when dry. Small sculptures like painted china figurines or bric-à-brac should also be mentioned in this context.
Craftsmen during the B. period produced some remarkable glass objects. Painted, etched and cut glasses, beaded or personalised cups were popular presents and souvenirs. Important artists working with glass were G. S. Mohn, A. Kothgasser and J. J. Mildner.
In architecture, the late 18th century had already prepared the ground for the tasteful simplicity of B. houses. Home was the most important aspect of B. culture. Furniture was simple, graceful and functional, with its clear-cut, slightly curved lines being emphasised by floral and striped prints and wallpaper. Some pieces of furniture, such as bentwood furniture developed by M. Thonet were already designed for mass production.
This specifically Austrian style of home décor was rediscovered around the turn of the century. Especially in architecture and in the arts and crafts, a Neo-Biedermeier movement can be discerned, running parallel to the Jugendstil and Secession movements until around 1918. Its ideas lived on within the Österreichischer Werkbund association. A new concern with personal values such as family life or home has made the Biedermeier period appear as the "golden age" during the last decades.
Literature: Bürgersinn und Aufbegehren - Biedermeier und Vormärz in Wien 1815-48, exhibition catalogue, Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, 1987/88; G. Frodl, Wiener Malerei der Biedermeierzeit, 1987; Wiener Biedermeier-Malerei zwischen Wiener Kongreß und Revolution, exhibition catalogue, Vienna 1993.
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