During his own lifetime Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller was stigmatized as a nature painter. His contemporaries as well as the general public did not take his affection for natural elements kindly. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, he was involved in a fierce dispute with his colleagues as he insisted on the inclusion of the study of nature as a subject for trainee painters. He was also sneered at, for he earned his living by copying from the works of old masters at the early stages of his career. Ironically, many of his techniques, most notably the plein air painting, are taught in the art schools around the world now. Not surprising then, that, it is his name that shines brightly as one of the most accomplished artists some two hundred years later from his birth.
Born on 15th January, 1793, Vienna, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller was not only a prolific painter but also a talented writer. Between 1807 and 1813 he irregularly attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before moving on to Zagreb, Croatia as a teacher in 1811. There he met his future wife, renowned soprano Catherine Weidner, through her painter brother Josef Weidner. For a time, Waldmüller followed Catherine on her tour, living in different cities and even took up the role of a scene painter at the theatre. Waldmüller married Catherine in 1814. But it took them three more years to find a stable abode when, finally, Vienna provided them with that opportunity. The following year, he worked under the tutelage of Joseph Lange for honing his skills in oil painting and Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger (1779 – 1853) for landscape painting. On behalf of the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, he painted a portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1823. This remained one of the highlights of his career. The painting though, perished during the Second World War. Closer to home, his association with Catherine was less than harmonious. His fierce temper and coarse language when angry horrified Catherine. His struggles as an artist and disappointments stemming from it did not help the matter either. Separation followed. Despite his quick temper he enjoyed a cordial relationship with his children.
Waldmüller travelled extensively to Italy and France between 1825 and 1844. During this period he also became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. His tenure at the Academy ended as his proposal for reformation was rejected and he was subsequently suspended. In 1851 Waldmüller married Anna Bayer. Under great financial difficulty he was forced to hold an exhibition in his wife’s fashion salon in 1854. He gave private lessons to earn a living and also to keep working for his lifelong passion, painting. Successful exhibitions in Buckingham Palace, London, 1856; Cologne, 1861; International Art Exhibition, London, 1862; and recognition from Emperor Franz Joseph in 1864 somewhat restored his credibility as an artist during his lifetime. On 23rd August, 1865 Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller bade goodbye to this world leaving behind his masterful work to inspire not only his students but generations of artists thereafter.
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s art explored far more than possible for a mere ‘landscape painter.’ Often known as the artist representing the Biedermeier Period, his paintings were frequently a reflection of his own humble background. Contrary to popular belief his artwork was not limited to painting fashionable vases or rapturous lilies but also human figures, each of whose heartthrob could be felt just by glancing on to the canvas. If he has painted still life and nature he ensured he paints worn–out roses in glittering silver vases, thereby, vividly showing the contrasting colours of life. The pastoral stories that did unfold in many of his paintings whisper back the saga of love, affection, tenderness and even treachery to the curious onlooker till this very date.