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Goethe's Art Gallery

Home > Frankfurt > Art | Exhibitions | Long Weekend | Museums
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published August 29th 2015
You think of Goethe in a literary context, but he also had a great love of art, and the collection he amassed is now displayed in a bespoke gallery next door to his house. Known as the Goethe Museum, this gallery is worth a visit even if you are not necessarily interested in Goethe himself. If you are, it helps put his Sturm und Drang style into perspective, the as a whole aesthetic movement. This article picks out just a few highlights, but the broad sweep of the collection will be bound to offer something for most tastes.

goethe art museum frankfurt
The Morgenstern cabinet of miniaturised masterpieces, offering something for everyone (Room 1)

A real treat lies in Room 3, a room dedicated to the changing style of Henry Fuseli. As you enter, you notice a certain consistency in the style, notably in the way the paintings deal with light. Yet, the variety of approaches, even to similar subject matter, gives a story of how an artist can develop.

henry fuseli, goethe museum frankfurt
Room 3 - full of Fuseli paintings

The collection includes arguably his most famous work, The Nightmare (1781). A wicked incubus sits on top of a woman sprawled in her sleep, struck with night terror. A ghoulish horse-head grins eerily at the side, in nightmareish word-play which reveals Fuseli's literary roots.

fuseli, nightmare, goethe, frankfurt
'The Nightmare' - Henry Fuseli (1781)

The painting is smaller than you might imagine, given its fame, and also less vividly intense than some modern reproductions would have you believe. The slight sepia tones draw in the viewer, unsettling them.

The rest of the room is no less splendid. At least two paintings, for example, depict scenes from King Lear (a further study is uncertain). These are Fuseli's defiant answer to eighteenth-century concerns over whether Shakespeare could ever be adequately depicted in art; can a painting ever be a work of art in its own right, free from being seen merely as a derived representation of Shakespeare? Fuseli offers a resounding yes.

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The Death of Cordelia - Henry Fuseli (1774)

Room 6 pays homage to the eighteenth and nineteenth century's obsession with the dream that was Rome, the grand tour. This museum is excellent in leading you through the styles and influences of Goethe's time, building up a sense of the developing aesthetic.

In Room 8 (Goethe's artist friends Tischbein and Hackert), a painting of Goethe himself spread magnificently across an Italian landscape welcomes you in. It isn't, in fact, the original, but a study in the style of Tischbein, the original being in another Frankfurt museum (and occasionally adorning buses).

goethe, tischbein, frankfurt
Room 8, and Goethe in Campagna (Bennert copy of Tischbein)

The gallery tells the story of the development of a movement. Influential thinkers such as Winckelmann are represented, and the paintings demonstrate the supposedly Classical ideals in action. Several rooms deal with Italian influences in particular, Italy becoming Arcadia for Goethe's 'Et in Arcadia Ego'.

The last room, Room 14, is in honour of Goethe himself, the man, the legend, the monument. What does it mean to leave your image as a lasting legacy? Busts and other memorials bear witness to the impact this German giant made on our cultural landscape.

goethe museum frankfrut
Room 14 - Goethe, the monument

The museum is on one floor of the institute next to the main house. You walk up, past the library, to a separate floor. Your main ticket also gets you entry. Paintings are alarmed, with frequent reminders over the tannoy not to get too close. There are periodic places to sit if you just want to contemplate the paintings. It's an exceptional private collection, well worth seeing for all art-lovers.

swan, lyre, goethe, museum, frankfurt
The swan and the lyre, symbols of Goethe and his Sturm und Drang
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Why? An exceptional private art collection
When: Monday - Saturday, 10-6, Sunday 10-5:30
Where: Goethe Museum, Freies Deutsches Hochstift
Cost: 7 euro adult rate, concessions and group rates available
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