Franz Xaver Petter (1791 - Vienna - 1866)
Two Flower Still Lifes, 1830
Oil on iron, 38 x 50 cm each
Signed and dated lower right Franz Xav. Petter. 1830.
Private collection, Sweden
We are grateful to Dr. Gerbert Frodl, who has kindly examined the paintings and prepared a statement. He dates them on account of their exceptional quality to Petter's most creative period, the years around 1830.
Viennese flower painting reached its zenith at the end of the eighteenth century when the genre gained Europe-wide popularity. Indeed, demand for flower pieces - particularly flower pieces painted on porcelain, a technique in which most Viennese flower painters excelled - reached remarkable levels. This enthusiasm was driven by the intense interest of the wealthy Austrian bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and the monarchy, led by Kaiser Franz I, in the science and aesthetics of botany - the scientia amabilis or ‘loveable science', as it was then described.1
The teaching of flower painting was first introduced at the Manufakturzeichenschule which had been set up in 1758. The school was integrated into the Academy in 1786 under Johann Baptist Drechsler. Demand for painters - and porcelain painters in particular - was so great that in 1807 teaching was divided between two separate schools - the Manufakturzeichenschule and a painting school for Blumen- Früchte- und Tiermalerei. The two schools functioned independently for a number
of years but were later absorbed into the Academy.2
Franz Xaver Petter3 ranks alongside Drechsler, Wegmayr and Nigg as one of the best-known Viennese flower painters of the Biedermeier era. He trained at the Academy's painting school for Blumen- Früchte- und Tiermalerei. From 1816 onwards, he was a regular contributor to exhibitions at the Academy and the Österreichischer Kunstverein. In 1838, he assumed responsibility for the Academy's annual exhibition, a role that Waldmüller, the chief custodian of the Academy's paintings collection, had turned down. Among Petter's private pupils were the painter Pauline von Koudelka-Schmerling and the future Queen of Belgium, Archduchess Maria Henriette. Petter was named a professor in 1832. He was promoted to the position of Akademischer Rat and Director of the Manufakturzeichenschule in 1835. Among his patrons were members of the royal family and the upper echelons of Viennese society. His death marks the end of the great age of Viennese flower painting.
The present two flower still lifes are both dated 1830 and both are executed in horizontal format. They are fine works from Petter's most creative period. He depicts a sumptuous mix of Mediterranean fruits like pomegranates and sun-drenched figs mingling with local produce like the medlar - highly popular in Vienna at the time - and different varieties of nuts. The fruits are elegantly combined with flowers such as the mallow, the rose, the nasturtium, the primula and the dog rose. The world of hidden meanings symbolized by different fruits and flowers which had held sway well into the eighteenth century had been replaced by a new, poetic ‘language of the flowers'.
The vitality of the still life illustrated in the right image is heightened by the inclusion of a Redcrested Cardinal, a South-American songbird. Its back, wings and tail are grey and its underparts and chest white. The face, crest and throat are red. At this time, this type of exotic bird (live or stuffed) was regarded as a particularly luxurious object. An exotic bird constituted a fashionable note of refinement when added to an otherwise traditionally composed flower piece in much the same vein as the cultivation of highly exotic plants - over two thousand greenhouses are known to have existed largely for this purpose in early nineteenth-century Vienna.
The two flower still lifes are designed as pendants. They were clearly inspired by Dutch eighteenth-century flower painting and draw on the compositions of flower painters like Jan van Huysum.4 A large number of outstanding examples of Dutch seventeenth and early eighteenth-century flower painting were held in the Imperial Collection and in Viennese private collections. They are likely to have served as models for the present paintings with their motif of a Blumen- und Früchte arrangement set on a marble base and seen against an indeterminate background. Petter, as a second-generation Viennese flower painter in the tradition of Drechsler, introduced the use of a lighter palette and warmer tonal values.5 His deployment of strikingly realistic effects - the depiction of dewdrops and tiny insects on petals - enhances the realism of his painting and underlines his technical virtuosity.
1. See Gerbert Frodl and Marianne Frodl-Schneemann, Die Blumenmalerei in Wien, Vienna, Cologne and Weimar 2010, pp.9-7.
2. See Walter Wagner, Die Geschichte der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien, Vienna 1967.
3. For details of Petter's biography, see Constantin von Wurzbach, ‘Petter, Franz Xaver' in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaisertums Österreich, XXII, Vienna 1870, pp.137-9; Frodl and Frodl-Schneemann, op. cit., pp.66-70.
4. Petter's response to Dutch painting owes much to Drechsler: The first painter in Vienna to seek out the Dutch masters as a direct source of inspiration. (Frodl and Frodl-Schneemann, op. cit., p.39). As a teacher, Drechsler was to shape the artistic development of large numbers of flower painters.
5. See Marianne Hussl-Hörmann, ‘Von zeitloser Schönheit. Franz Xaver Petter (1791-1866)', in Parnass, 22/1, Vienna 2002, p.54.