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Joseph Fuhrich

Artist b. 1800; d. 1876

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Fiihrich, JOSEPH, b. 1800; d. 1876, was as Catholic in his art as in his life. He was fond of avowing his principles on art with great emphasis; he declares that religion, art, and nature are harmoniously combined in his mind, that he does not admit that ecclesiastical art is its own end, but that its end is to be serviceable in God‘s house, not as mere decoration, but as a means of instruction, in order to manifest to the heart as far as possible by means of the senses the life of faith. As a painter his works, like Overbeck’s, were inspired by piety, while in his conceptions and their expression he resembles Cornelius. As the son of a poor painter in the Bohemian town of Kratzau, he learned the elements of the art in his father’s workshop and practiced drawing while keeping his flock, the Christ-Child and the adoration of the shepherds being his favorite subject. His father brought him at the age of sixteen to the painter Bergler in Prague.

This artist was so well pleased with two compositions assigned by him to the novice, that he advised him to exhibit some of his pictures. Two of them were actually bought, and several art patrons procured for him the funds necessary to attend the academy. The reading of Romantic poets soon made a Romanticist of him. Cornelius‘s illustrations of “Faust” and Overbeck’s sketch of Tasso confirmed this tendency. On his journeys to Dresden and Vienna he became fond of Durer’s creations. He illustrated the Lord’s Prayer in nine etchings and Tieck’s “Genoveva” in fifteen. To the recommendation of some Romanticists he was indebted for the means for. a journey to Rome, which he began towards the end of 1826. In Italy he studied the works of different periods of art, above all acquired the historical style, studied the representation of the great Christian mysteries, and modified his method by the study of the works of Raphael and Michelangelo. Of course he did not fail to become acquainted with Fra Angelico, a spirit congenial to his own. In Rome he immediately joined the Nazarene School, learned monumental technic, and completed the Tasso cycle in the Villa Massimi by adding three frescoes: “Armida and Rinaldo”, “Armida in the Enchanted Forest”, and “The Crusaders at the Holy Sepulchre.” The year 1829 saw him again in Prague, but in 1834 he went to Vienna, where he lived till his death.

It is noteworthy that two of his early pictures, painted shortly after his return, viz. “Jacob and Rachel” and “Mary’s Journey over the Mountains”, sold for five times the original price, even during his lifetime. In 1841 he became professor in the academy of Vienna and was raised to the order of knighthood in 1854, and was henceforth commonly called Ritter von Fuhrich. Executed with the same care as the paintings just mentioned, are “Booz and Ruth”, “St. Gudula”, “Christ in Limbo“, “Christ on His Way to the Garden”. He painted religious pictures almost exclusively; of Old-Testament subjects we may mention: “God writes the Commandments upon the Tables of Stone”, “Josue and the Destruction of Jericho“, “The Sorrowing Jews”; of New-Testament pictures: “Joseph‘s Dream”, “Joseph and Mary on their Way to Jerusalem“, “The Birth of Christ”, “The Storm on the Sea”, “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes”. These pictures prove the grandeur and loftiness of religious themes and testify to the moral and mystical conception of the artist. Purity in form and energy in expression, a simple beauty in movement and dress, without pretension and affectation, are their unmistakable excellencies. The artist’s desire to apply the monumental fresco-technic in his native country was fulfilled twice. In 1844-46 he painted the Stations of the Cross in the church of St. John Nepomucene in Vienna. The work was appreciated on all sides, and copies of it have reached America and the most distant missions.

In 1854-61 he painted, together with others, the church of Altlerchenfeld in Vienna. The artist himself has explained to us the plan of this Christian epos. Christ’s activity as the Savior before, during, and after his earthly career, is presented here to the eyes of the faithful as in a great picture Bible; in the vestibule, what precedes the creation of man; on the walls of the entrance and in the aisles, the prototypes of the Old Testament; in the nave, scenes from the New Testament; the pictures in the transept represent the proximate preparation for the redemption; over the main altar, the Crucifixion, and in the choir, Christ’s life in His Church. The plan, as well as the composition, is magnificent; in the execution he was aided by less skillful hands, and the coloring is at times imperfect, as is the case in most of the works of the Nazarenes. But Fuhrich acquired his greatest fame as a draughtsman. Though we may miss at times individuality, characters drawn from life, and dramatic movement, a fact which will not astonish us, considering the ideal character of his subjects, still he meets the essential requirements of his theme, often enraptures us by his naivete and piety, by his noble lines and thoughtful invention. His cyclical pictures have become the joy of the Christian people. The master here achieves his ideal of the artist’s work. The artist must be a man of meditation and a man of enthusiasm, who can translate the element of instruction from the purely intellectual sphere into that of the imagination, turn mere inspection into contemplation. The Christmas cycle or “The Way to Bethlehem” in its twelve numbers contains the most beautiful pictorial idylls. Full of charm and touching is the symbolical figure of the human soul, whose attention is first called by the personification of Christian art to the mystery of the Incarnation and which then follows the events with the light of meditation and the inspiration of art. The fifteen pictures of the Easter cycle, “He is Risen”, surprise us by the fertility of ideas, by the astonishing skill in the use of symbolical language, by their dignified earnestness and deep truth. Equally imperishable works of art are the eleven drawings and etchings entitled “Christ’s Triumph”. In “Thomas a Kempis” (to the text of Guido Gorres) Fuhrich found an opportunity to throw the principal tenets of our religion into poetical form, and at the same time to reveal the wealth of his Christian heart.

To these works must be added “The Life of Mary”, “The Legend of St. Wendelin”, “The Psalter”, “Poor Henry”, and “Memorials for Our Time“. Most of these drawings were made for woodcuts, “The Prodigal Son” and “Ruth” for copperplate engravings. Ftihrich’s Catholic principles of aesthetics are laid down in his beautiful booklet “Von der Kunst”, also in “Kunst and ihre Formen”. Moreover, we have from his pen “Briefe aus Italien” and an autobiography; a new edition of the latter, prepared by friends and enriched with additions, appeared in 1875 in Vienna.


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