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A modern-day Arcadia
Deutsche Bank Foundation Supports the Anniversary Exhibition on the Villa Romana

Hans Purrmann, Die Villa Romana von Süden (I), 1938
Kunstverein Speyer, © VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn 2005

Rooms full of character, spacious studios, an enchanted garden – German artists have been traveling to a villa in Florence for a century now. Recipients of the Villa Romana Prize can live and work for nearly a year in the late Classicist residency center. The comprehensive anniversary exhibition "A modern-day Arcadia?" is now celebrating the inspirational power of this refuge for art. The exhibition at the New Museum in Weimar is being supported by Deutsche Bank, which has been closely connected to the history of the Villa Romana since the late twenties.

Max Beckmann, Junge Männer am Meer, 1905
Klassik Stiftung Weimar, © VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn 2005

In his Self-Portrait in Florence, the young artist is standing casually, cigarette in hand, gazing directly into the viewer’s eyes. The 22 year-old Max Beckmann had every reason to pose as a self-confident artist in an elegant black suit. His painting Young Men at the Sea from 1905 was awarded the Villa Romana Prize in Weimar at the exhibition of the German Artists’ Association. The self-portrait as prizewinner was painted one year later in Florence; the window Beckmann is posing before opens onto a view of the villa’s garden and the city on the Arno. Both paintings can be seen through January 15 at the New Museum in Weimar – in the exhibition A modern-day Arcadia?, whose 180 works tell the rich story of the Villa Romana and its guests.

Ernst Barlach: Sterndeuter I & II, 1909
Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck
©Ernst Barlach Lizenzverwaltung, Ratzeburg

"Talented artists should be given an opportunity to work in peace and a beautiful environment." These were the words Max Klinge r used to present his vision of an artist’s house. As the son of a wealthy soap manufacturer, the painter, graphic artist, and sculptor, revered today mainly for his surreal etchings, was never himself dependent on financial support. His project was supported by the sophisticated dandy and patron Harry Graf Kessler, who was at the time director of the Weimar Museum for Arts and Crafts. The board of directors of the German Artists’ Association liked the idea, and Klinger purchased the 40-room villa in Florence on the Via Senese. Its garden, surrounded by a high wall, was to develop into an atmospheric refuge over the course of the following years. Today, visitors discover a park with olive trees and cypresses, high laurel hedges, and a bamboo grove. And the lemon trees haven’t been forgotten either, of course.

Max Klinger, Sirene, 1892/1895
Sammlung Villa Romana, Florenz, © Villa Romana-Archiv Florenz

German artists have been traveling to "the country where the lemons bloom" since Dürer’s time for reasons that go beyond the classical educational journey. Like many of his contemporaries, Klinger was also looking for another way to live in Italy – and for the unspoiled nature that was increasingly disappearing at home in the course of rapid industrialization. Next to Rome, Florence developed into the chief attraction for German artists. It was here, in the cradle of the Renaissance, that Hans von Marées painted his Arcadian nudes, here that Klinger met Arnold Böcklin, who painted several versions of his cypress-covered Island of the Dead in the studio of an artist friend.

Arnold Böcklin: Flora, die Blumen weckend, 1876
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal
©Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal

Antique mythological beings such as centaurs and nymphs populate Böcklin’s paintings, for example in Flora, Calling the Flowers to Life from 1876, which can be seen in the anniversary exhibition. The goddess of flowers, clothed only in a bright red garment around the hips, is playing the harp, waking the flower-crowned cherubs from their winter slumber. In Italy, Klinger freed himself from his academic painting style; the light-filled southern landscapes inspired him to an almost impressionist manner of painting. The exhibition shows his painting Siren from 1892/95 from the Villa Romana Collection. A mermaid and a young man are embracing ecstatically, surrounded by the roaring sea. The water creature’s abysmal, oddly blind looking eyes betray that this ardent union will not end well for her lover.

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