A  ‘Sketch’  as  ‘Finished’  Work  of  Art

and  Precious  Cimelium  to  the  Oil  of  1895  burnt  in  1942
of  the  Neue  Pinakothek  Munich

“ Cranes  of  Ibycus ”

Strathmann, Carl (Dusseldorf 1866 – Munich 1939). Ibycus. In meadow-land overgrown with mushrooms and three trees the gods’ friend striding to the right, mightily singing, the lyre in the extended left. To Friedrich Schiller’s 1797 ballad The Cranes of Ibycus. Black pen, watercolor & gold on Bristol paper mounted on cardboard, on which the work is both completed and repeatedly lined. C. 1894/95. Inscribed with black pen on the sketch paper below right: C. Strathmann. 31½ × 23 in (80 × 58.5 cm).


Thieme-Becker XXXII (1938), 160; Vollmer VI (1962), 436; Lovis Corinth, Carl Strathmann, in Kunst und Künstler 1903, pp. 255-263, reprinted in Legenden aus dem Künstlerleben, 1909, pp. 71 ff. and 1918, pp. 68-82 resp.; The same, (My Early Years), 1954, p. 132.; Heusinger v. Waldegg, (Grotesque Art Nouveau – Carl Strathmann … Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Graphic / Catalog of the Exhibition in the Rhenish Regional Museum Bonn March/May 1976 with 4-page selection of exhibitions & literature [Art & Antiquity on the Rhine 63]); Catalog of the Exhibition “Munich 1869-1958 / (Departure into Modern Art)”, Munich, Haus der Kunst, 1958.

Solo Exhibitions

Retrospective Exhibitions: 1916/17 Berlin Secession (special exhibition); 1931 Munich Art Society; 1958 Gallery Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich; 1976 Rhenish Regional Museum Bonn. – 1902 & 1910/11 Gallery Paul Cassirer, Berlin; 1907 Arnolds Kunstsalon, Dresden; 1911 Munich Art Society; 1914 & 1918 Emperor Wilhelm-Museum Krefeld; 1914/15 Art Society Frankfort on the Main, Augsburg, Leipsic; 1921 Leopold Hoesch-Museum Düren; 1924 Glass Palace Vienna (special exhibition); 1931 Munich Art Society (special exhibition).

Group Exhibitions

1892 & 1894 Gallery Fritz Gurlitt, Berlin; 1893-1922 repeated International Art Exhibition, Munich; Munich Annual Exhibition; Munich Secession; Great Berlin Art Exhibition; Berlin Secession; 1894/95 Munich Art Society (together with Walter Leistikow); 1895/96 Glass Palace Dusseldorf; 1905 2nd Exhibition of the German Artists Union, Berlin; 1907 German National Art Exhibition, Dusseldorf; 1958 Haus der Kunst, Munich (Munich 1869-1958 / Departure into Modern Art).


as  painterly  executed  detail  sketch

to  “Cranes  of  Ibycus”

of 1895 (Cat. Bonn ill. 138; Boetticher, Oils, 1; exhibited still in the same year at the Munich Annual Exhibition and the Special Exhibition of the Artist Union Laetitia in the Artist Hall Dusseldorf & 1898 on the Great Berlin Art Exhibition; 1942 burnt in the Neue Pinakothek Munich) as beside Salambo (1894/95) – see below – and together with Saint Francis preaching to the Animals of the same year

“ main  works  of  the  decorative  ornamental  Munich  Art  Nouveau ,

in which different influences of applied art, Symbolism, Byzantinism and Academism (Stuck’s sensational success ‘The Sin’, 1893) mix “

(Catalog Bonn, 1976, p. 9). –  And  Lovis  Corinth  1903 :

“ At the same time with the ‘Salambo’

his  most  charming  picture  was  created , too :

Ibycus , the  Friend  of  Gods .

It  is  not  unaffected  by  the  Japanese

(‘Paints pictures of large figures, landscapes and still lifes in a manner influenced by Japan’, Thieme-Becker). Flying gilt cranes occupy the upper part of the subject. To them Ibycus holds out one hand in greeting; around the head he has a golden gloriole, and rich clothes envelop his body, a rich vegetation of not existing plants and trees cover the rest of the picture.

I personally do not hesitate to reckon

this  picture  among  the  best  works  of  our  time ”

(quoted after Catalog Bonn, p. 82).

And just from 1895 as the year of its origin then also Corinth’s large-sized three-quarter portrait of Strathmann with cigar to the right (oil/canvas, 43¾ × 31⅞ in [111 × 81 cm]) in Munich. See Cat. Bonn 129 + ill. 1 as frontispiece.


“ of Rhegium in Italy (Reggio Calabria, Lower Italy), Greek lyric poet … flourished in the 6th century B.C. Notwithstanding his good position at home, he lived a wandering life, and spent a considerable time at the court of Polycrates, tyrant of Samos. The story of his death is thus related: While in the neighbourhood of Corinth, the poet was mortally wounded by robbers. As he lay dying he saw a flock of cranes flying overhead, and called upon them to avenge his death. The murderers betook themselves to Corinth, and soon after, while sitting in the theatre, saw the cranes hovering above. One of them, either in alarm or jest, ejaculated, ‘Behold the avengers of Ibycus,’ and thus gave the clue to the detection of the crime … The phrase, ‘the cranes of Ibycus,’ – subsequently the title of Friedrich Schiller’s immortal ballad, too – passed into a proverb among the Greeks for the discovery of crime through divine intervention. According to Suidas, Ibycus wrote seven books of lyrics, to some extent mythical and heroic, but mainly erotic, celebrating the charms of beautiful youths and girls … Although the metre and dialect are Dorian, the poems breathe the spirit of Aeolian melic poetry ”

(Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., XIV [1911], 226).

Here then Ibycus apart,

Carl Strathmann, Cranes of Ibycus after Schiller (detail)

in reverse to the right, greeting the not shown cranes not silently, rather emphatically moved, with mighty song at correspondingly curved body, strongly looking up and laurel-wreathed. Adequate hereto the instrument, compact and held calmly in the left in the painting, but elongated and crowned with bows and entwined with a garland of flowers in the left raised upwards here, extending beyond subject & golden border onto the mounting. If the gloriole of the oil is imagined here just as that seems dubious as set here as huge golden half disk, rather suggesting a sunset in respect of the events, into the blue of the sky, behind the trees, head/breast and the lower part of the lyre, marked off horizontally by the meadow sparsely populated by mushrooms. As then also the garment still without train and almost monotonous. Everything concentrated free of distraction at the downright audible powerful voice, the lyre breaking the picture, the mighty golden disk. In short, in contrast to the charm of the oil

the  anticipated  drama  of  the  coming

Carl Strathmann, Ibycus (detail)

reflected  by  the  eyes ,

the appeal at the here not present cranes as accusers: “Ye cranes, that sweep through upper air, Though hushed be every human breath, The tidings of my murder bear!” (Schiller).

Which by no means is the end of the matter. For as top of the picture the left upper edge of the lyre is adored by

Carl Strathmann, Ibycus (detail: butterfly)

a butterfly as messenger of death !

“ … The butterfly now became – beside the angels – one of the characteristic symbols for the flight of the soul and the path into the Everafter. In antiquity an allegory for the soul (Greek “psyche” = soul) surviving the physical death, it had survived into the modern age as symbol of resurrection and immortality. About 1800 classicism resorted to this ancient tradition, the butterfly became a popular symbol of sepulchral art … ”

(Norbert Fischer, Of Angels, Butterflies and the Transition into the Everafter, in Ohlsdorf – Zeitschrift für Trauerkultur no. 100/101, I&II, March 2008).

Apparently contrary to this the — color compositionally red of course — mushrooms as a “symbol for longevity, for what reason small happy mushrooms are given away at New Year’s Day.” Rather then supposedly symbolism for the span of life. And with the severeness of this trefoil

oculesics , butterfly , mushrooms

as missing in the painting

this detail study thematically downright makes light of the latter in its rich bloom as a pictorially gorgeous, yet in no way offending salon picture, as a very fine example for the “strictly flat-like composition during the 1890s” as then

the works before 1900 as representing the “high art”

generally are the decisive ones .

Rooted in Symbolism & Art Nouveau, Strathmann began in Dusseldorf, but “(a)fter conflicts with the instructors (there) …

who tried in vain to press him into the familiar drill system ,

he moved to Weimar where count Kalckreuth attracted many young talents” (Lovis Corinth).

Befriended with Th. Th. Heine, with whom he belonged to the artist group Laetitia, and Corinth. Since 1891 in Munich with memberships in the Allotria and the Cococello Club and from 1894 in the Freie Vereinigung as splinter group of the Munich Secession

“ whose members … form the core group of the Munich Art Nouveau …

Common to these painters is the academic origin and the device ‘The Triumph over Naturalism’ ”

(Cat. Bonn, p. 26), 1907 finally of the Berlin Secession. Since 1895 contributor to the just established Pan, since 1896 of the Jugend and the Fliegende Blätter (“Strathmann’s contribution to the book illustration of Art Nouveau is not very extensive, but of high quality”).

“ Presumably no second one among the successful painters of our younger generation is more difficult to be classified than Karl Strathmann. He suits into none of the conventional drawers of aesthetics … – he has something of everything and is at the same time still

a  strangely  own  weighty  cohesive  personage “

(Wilhelm Schäfer 1904 in [One Hundred Contemporary Masters], quoted from Catalog Bonn, pp. 16 f.).

So then loftily on the wall beside the bed in the studio a mask of Ludwig van Beethoven (Cat. Bonn, p. 17 & ill. 15).

And “to make the autonomous position of this unjustly undervalued (… artistic phenomenon) within the stylistic movement (of the particularly Munich Art Nouveau) more evident than hitherto” then was one of the aims of the profound exhibition at Bonn, which by this at the same time enlarged upon Hans H. Hofstätter’s previous examination of Strathmann. As then Brigitte Lohkamp also cites in Strathmann in der Wertung von Forschung und Kunstkritik as her contribution to the catalog that voice which sees in Strathmann a

“ draughtsman  and  decorator  ingenious  to  the  extreme  finger-tip ”

(pp. 72 & 74).

Whose “grotesque” style not least seized those following younger ones, too, whose new style obtained German art of the 1st half of the 20th century international standing :

“ Like many modern artists who started with the ‘grotesque illustration’ of Art Nouveau (Kurt Bauch), including Feininger, Barlach, Nolde, the young Paul Klee, too, finds in his fantastic-satiric drawings about 1901 … his starting point here … (Strathmann’s) quasi autonomous play with forms tends towards the direction of abstract art in the sense of the ‘self expression of artistic means’ (Juliane Roh) and leads into the ‘hieroglyph’ of expression (E. L. Kirchner) of the expressionists resp.

Many  expressionists  are  rooted  in  their  creativeness  in  the  Art  Nouveau

… later Kirchner came to his stylish formal language: it remained reserved to expressionism to radicalize the abstracting stylistic means of Art Nouveau ”

(Catalog Bonn, pp. 65 ff., already before, p. 64, reminding of Strathmann’s painted postcards whose “fantastic inventions with realistic single forms … suggest collages by Max Ernst”).

Correspondingly then in 2008 the exemplary exhibition Freedom of the Line — From Obrist and the Art Nouveau to Marc, Klee and Kirchner at the LWL-Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Münster presenting

“ the  universally  known  art  of  the  ‘Blue Rider’

(especially Kirchner) in a new context. For the first time

the origins of Expressionism

in the Munich Art Nouveau about 1900 are illustrated …

Common theme of the exhibited works of art is the movement. In applied arts and architecture, in pictures and sculptures Art Nouveau created expressive linear movements representing sensations already by their mere runs …

(Also) shown in the exhibition a main work of Munich Symbolism: the large-format painting ‘Salambo’

by  the  eccentric  artist  Carl  Strathmann …

from 1895 (the year of the Ibycus, too, as already mentioned). It shows a scene from the famous novel ‘Salambo’ by Gustave Flaubert: the Serpent Magic … a harp symbolizes the sound of music … When in 1895 the picture was shown to the public it was a scandal … Nevertheless – or just for that reason – already then it became a public success ”

(Claudia Miklis in the then press statement of the museum).

In respect of the strong element of gold in present Ibycus work it may finally be reminded of this as a “symbolic value of Symbolism”, as “a medium standing beyond all colorful naturalness and bestowing (the work of art) with ‘sacral solemn mood’, by which paraphrase Hofstätter seizes on Oswald Spengler to perceive after all in this whole allegorism evaluated by its contents “an admirable subtlety”, an “accomplished invasion of the applied arts into the painting”. Gustav Klimt’s Golden Adele from only 1907 hails as spectaculum of recent memory.

“ (And l)ike the best bookbinder (Strathmann) glues cardboard — his watercolors are often put together from several pieces — or splits the thinnest pasteboards if they are painted on both sides, so that each picture is there apart ” (Lovis Corinth).

Among the 128 Strathmann pieces of the 1976 Bonn exhibition

none with evident reference to Ibycus ,

from which present exemplary preparatory work accrues not just because of the destruction of the painting in 1942

beside the artistic also an exceptional evidence ,

but in regard of the trefoil of oculesics, butterfly and mushrooms visibly beyond a unique insight into the creative process, probably also deference to the audience, still more, however, downright delving into mindset and psyche.

Reflecting  human  in  the  study , saint  in  the  painting .

Carl Strathmann, Cranes of Ibycus after Schiller (signature)

The italic style of the signature corresponding with that of Mohammed on the Flight in Munich (no. 49 of the Bonn catalog with ill. 147; about 1900), the underscore of which here already starting from the first lower t-stroke. Similar, if not equal, also that of the lost First Kiss (ill. 49 of the cat.; about 1892/93) as then also that of the burnt 1895 Ibycus painting in its likewise capitalization and use of small letters deviates from the more regular spelling in printed majuscules.

Conceivably fresh in preservation, the bronze tone of the gold nevertheless should be conditioned by age. The mounting board with its various borderlines in pen and ink & completions of the composition with some faint small smudges and isolated fox-stipples in the left lower field. Coming along by the way with

decades-long  preservation  in  the  drawers  of  but  one  connoisseur .

Offer no. 14,751 / price on application

Carl Strathmann, Cranes of Ibycus after Schiller (detail)

“ I have now fetched the parcel and I am very satisfied. Its a good copy and I think it is telling a lot about Ekeman Alleson … Thank you for good envelope around it and for good service! ”

(Mrs. G. H., March 7, 2005)