In Defense of Hans Makart

This morning ‘s New York Times had a review of what appears to be a marvelous exploration of Viennese modernism at the Neue  Galerie.

Although Roberta Smith was a bit dismissive of the Neue’s obvious affection for fin de Siècle excess, going so far as declaring the gallery “…adolescently, in love…”; she saves  much of her disdain for Hans Makart.

Hans Makart

b. 28th May 1840

d. 3rd October 1884

Self portrait


She describes Makarts work as “this froth of cloying brushwork and sartorial detail ” that “stands out like a sore thumb opposite Adele. But it vividly locates the artistic stagnation that the painters of other portraits in the room — Klimt, as well as Schiele and Kokoschka — were rebelling against”.

It is  unfair to compare Makart to the Gustav Klimt, but as  the exhibit contrasts the two artist; the former studio assistant will inevitably outshine his master.

I love Klimt of course, how can you not?

Gustav Klimt

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I


I just feel it important to not dismiss Makart as “froth”.

An artist held in such esteem that Bernhardt posed for him.

Sarah Bernhardt


A master colorist who left behind  a body of work that is often startlingly seductive and subversive. Klimt clearly was a genius, but Makart deserves his due.

Allegory of Lust for Life


(certainly not a subtle image)

It has been awhile since I posted on Makart, I think this a good time to review what I admire about his work.

I find this painting a bit odd, is it a twist on the Nativity?

Child Portrait

It 1872

It is true that Makart enjoyed tremendous success in his day, it is understandable to defend the rebellious Klimt.

Makart’s atelier/ salon, described by Cosima Wagner as a “wonder of decorative beauty” drew a wide circle of fashionable society, Makart satisfied their vanity with very smart portraits.

Crown Princess Stephanie


Considered a poor draughtsman, Makart compensated with dazzling coloring and dramatic composition.

The Death of Cleopatra


This floral painting is far from conventional, there is sinister quality that is difficult to ignore.

Still Life with Roses


And although more conventional,  the gorgeous palette is very seductive .

Large Floral Piece


So pervasive was the Makartstil,floral arrangements of such lush abundance became known as Makartbouquet.

Fanciful images of a faun and nymph  are cast in creepy light by this “frothy” artist.

Pan and Flora


(such a perverse image)

Makart like his contemporary Antoine Wiertz may not have been exceptional next to the wondrous Klimt or Schiele, but they were gifted and inventive; contrary to Smith’s accusation of “artistic stagnation”.

I wish my own work was so stagnant.

Sacrificial Scene


I for one do not want them forgotten.

Enjoy the weekend.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque

15 Responses to “In Defense of Hans Makart”

  1. Thank you for bringing this artist to my attention. I was not aware of his work…..there is a slight “off-ness” (not a word, I realize) about them that makes me want to look more closely at them. Lush colors, sensuous shapes……hmmmm. I like.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed his work, like so many artists I enjoy, he is dismissed. Perhaps I favor”bad art”.
      We will leave that to the experts.
      Take care,

  2. I hadn’t heard of him until now but that’s not unusual for me, I’m learning late in life! His work certainly appeals to me and thank you for the intro.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Well I’m pleased to introduce you. Makart was quite a big deal in his day, taste has changed, he seem forgotten except as an object of derision. i hope to remedy that if just a little bit.

  3. I think the Bernhardt portrait is the most successful – he has given himself up to color and shadow and texture very wonderfully.

    It is impossible to stand apart from Klimt and Schiele – a very brutal comparison! – but in the end, I am in favor of all ‘fin de Siècle excess’. This is a new artist to me – do you know what his influences were?

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I can agree with you concerning the Bernhardt portrait, it certainly appeals to current taste; I’m not convinced it is a finished painting, i thought initially it may be a study. I confess I do not know its background.
      I actually enjoy most of Makart’s work, some are a bit cloying, but I feel the same about almost all of Renoir’s work.
      Makart had great aspirations but was considered a less gifted draughtsman ,his dramatic coloring was his claim to fame and his compensation.I for one would love to be considered so “less gifted”; I aspire to his level of competency.
      His inspiration I believe was the company he kept, he was friends with Richard Wagner, they both believed strongly in the spectacle of art; Makart followed Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk- a total complete work of art- Makart’s work would probably have made greater sense in his lavish and influential atelier.
      Makartstil was a really phenomena in its day( he was a decorator as well as a studio painter), we are left with some paintings that don’t fully explain the complete environment.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
      LG @ Babylonbaroque

  4. Thanks for the post! I love this kind of passionate re-evaluation of a (posthumously) neglected artist. I get a Gustave Moreau vibe from some of his images, a burnished mirror held up to Viennese fin-de-siècle decadence and neurosis.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I’m glad, I love Makart, particularly his color sense.
      And yes I can see where you are going with Viennese neurosis, the images, particularly the florals seem fragile and endangered of succumbing to some impending doom.

  5. Most write-ups about Makart from educated art critics are like write-ups about Bouguereau, they’re filled with all sorts of knee-jerk cliches they learned by rote from their art history classes. You’re taught to hate academics, its part of your moral education. Just like when talking about Bouguereau, how they’ll always note “this is what Impressionists rebelled against”, they’ll mention the same thing about the avant-garde in Vienna vis-a-vis Makart.

    But when you’re talking about Makart versus Klimt, or Bouguereau versus the Impressionists, what you’re talking about is an older generation versus a newer generation. In a very real sense there could have been no Impressionists without artists like Bouguereau or no Austrian avant-garde without artists like Makart. And not because they needed something to rebel against; but because of the direction they shaped artistic culture and taste. The focus on the aesthetic of form, and of the immediacy of the aesthetic on the viewer.

    Klimt himself admired Makart, enough said; Makart was an indelible influence on him. I haven’t even read anything to suggest he was “rebelling against him.” But it was almost a mandatory thing at the time that you spoke out against the academy,… even academicians did. Thomas Couture spoke out about the academy all the time. It was like politicians today complaining about politics as usual, it was par for the course.

    Anyway , I can find examples of cloying sentimentality from not only from artists like Renoir, but countless artists at the time, including Picasso and Manet. (see Picasso’s Boy with a Dove, and Manet’s Boy with Cherries). And avant-garde art tends to have less sloppy use of sentimentality, but they can be bad in their own way also. Not every Cezanne is perfect, a lot of his paintings are formless messes. All artists have their own conceits that show up in their less than finest work.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      There is a popular disdain for academic rigor. I am personally experiencing this in my search for training, the current model is to ignore the great draughtsman of the past, to rely upon one’s own ‘genius”. I find this ridiculous, i argue an artist must be well trained to have something to rebel against( if one must rebel).
      I am fortunate in that I am attending a private school with a traditional approach.
      I agree it is generational, which seems natural to me, and useful. Scholars have created a bias it seems , for instead of using their advantage of hindsight they promote a perspective to suit their particular taste.
      It all seems a lot of malarkey at times, but enjoyable malarkey.
      BTW I rather like Picasso’s boy with a Dove.
      I confess a bias against Renoir.
      Take care,

      • Although it should be pointed out that to a lot of these great draughtsmen it became second nature and intuitive. Bouguereau became so good at what he did, that he could improvise a way to paint a texture on the spot, without any forethinking. He often reworked his paintings to ‘get them right’, but he was able to create remarkably life-like sketches without going through any rigorous process.

        I think a lot of people in the art world today are under the impression (Hockney, for instance) that painting like this was just a matter of practicing a skill and treating painting the same as a craft, but it was really a matter of learning to see nature in a particular way and learning to use the medium with some degree of control.

        Couture has a lot of comments about this. He had disdain for realists, and called them untalented, that the ugliness in their art was a result of them having no artistic insight.

      • babylonbaroque Says:

        This discussion is particularly relevant to my current situation. My desire for formal training has brought this issue to the foreground. Although merely aping nature would be a marvelous burden, I understand what you are saying. I recoil ( with begrudging admiration) from hyper realistic work, often in a Suburban Narrative. I think Couture was correct in describing such artists as uncreative, I wouldn’t describe the dull realists as untalented, just lacking vision.
        Speaking of Hockney and his ilk, I have in mind a post concerning the camera obscura and the claim that certain masters such as Ingres may have “cheated” a bit.
        I appreciate this conversation particular as I struggle with my own mediocrity.
        Take care,

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Post Script- I think a post devoted to Thomas Couture is in order, thank you for the reminder.

  6. I know this probably will not go over well but I have never been a big fan of Makart.I find it to be disturbing for some reason. It seems dark to me.

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