Hermann Herzog 1831-1932

Sunset

  • 15 x 22 inches (38.1 x 55.9 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower left: H Herzog. Numbered on stretcher: 807

Why We Love It

This is the most luminous work by the artist we have come across. It’s soft, late daylight and hazy atmosphere almost glows. Few other artists (Albert Bierstadt immediately comes to mind) captured light so dramatically. While many paintings by Hermann Herzog demonstrate his exacting draftsmanship and technical skill, few can claim the serenity and beauty of this painting.

The Value

Hermann Herzog’s prices can swing wildly depending on subject, location and condition. This work is unlined and in pristine condition. The fact that it is a European scene rather than a depiction of the Rocky Mountains makes it more affordable, but in terms of its innate quality as a painting, it is in the top tier of the artist’s efforts. It is in a fine 1880s period frame.

Artist Background

1832: Born in Bremen, Germany; 1849: Studied at Dusseldorf Academy and then traveled extensively throughout Germany, Switzarland, Italy, and Norway; 1850-60s: Established fine artistic reputation throughout Europe. Counted Queen Victoria of England and Grand Duke Alexander of Russia as patrons; 1863-64: Exhibited at the Paris Salon, where he won honorable mention in 1863; 1863-69: Sent several paintings for exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA); 1869: Immigrated to United States and settled in Philadelphia; 1871: Traveled to the Hudson River Valley on a painting tour; 1873: Took first painting trip out West. He went to Yosemite, Wyoming, Oregon, and along the West Coast to the Coronado Island. He made frequent trips out West until 1905; 1876: Exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition and won a bronze medal; 1880s: Began visiting Florida regularly; 1931: Died at the age of 100.

Hermann Herzog’s Sunset is an archetypical example of 19th century American luminism. The view is a placid Swiss lake whose mirror-like surface reflects snowcapped mountains. Light, air and atmosphere are characterized by infinite tonal gradation. The light is moist and transparent. It is palpable, and the overall effect is as metaphysical as it is physical. The prospect is extremely still with only a suggestion of motion in the form of a lone bird.

Although not primarily known as a luminist painter, Herzog broke away from the greens and browns of the Hudson River School and opened his palette to the fleeting effects of atmosphere and sunlight. Many of his paintings share the luminists’ view of the transcendent spiritual beauty of nature. This is the context within which to view Herzog’s Sunset.

Herman Herzog was born in Bremen, Germany, on November 15, 1831. At 16, he entered the Dusseldorf Academy and studied under several classical landscape painters. In 1855, Herzog made his first visit to Norway. The trip was a milestone in Herzog’s career as it exposed him to the rugged landscape of the Norwegian wilderness and instilled in him a lifelong sense of nature that was to show in all his work.

During the late 1850’s and early 1860’s, Herzog’s fame spread throughout Europe. His paintings were collected for their dynamic realism and strong atmospheric effects. Among his patrons were several of Europe’s royal families, including Queen Victoria of England and Grand Duke Alexander of Russia. He exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1863 and 1864, winning an Honorable Mention.

While in Paris, it is thought that Herzog came into contact with the popular Barbizon School, whose adherents painted the grandeur and beauty of nature in a romantic and realistic style. The effect of the Barbizon painters can also be seen in Herzog’s poetic handling of mood and color. Although he was still in Europe, Herzog sent several paintings for exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1863 to 1869. He had several friends in the United States and they were developing a rather good demand for his work.

It is not known exactly when Herzog decided to come to America. Sometime in the late 1860’s he settled in Philadelphia. Besides wanting a developing market for his work, Herzog left Bremen due to rising political agitation by Prussia, which had just absorbed Bremen into its domain.

In America, Herzog continued to paint his romantic landscapes, finding the American wilderness well suited to his style. In 1871, he traveled up the Hudson River on a painting tour. In 1873, he took his first trip west, going to Yosemite, then to Wyoming, Oregon, and along the West Coast to the Coronado Island, near the Mexican border. Herzog made several journeys west, finding each trip more fruitful than the last. He became known for his depictions of Yosemite, receiving great acclaim for a fine El Capitan, much in the style of his fellow countryman and painter Albert Bierstadt. His last trip west was in 1905, at the age of 74.

In 1876, Herzog participated in the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, showing a Norwegian scene and a Yosemite landscape, which earned him a Bronze Medal. In 1882, he exhibited two paintings of Pennsylvania at the National Academy Annual Exhibition.

As Herzog grew older, he continued to paint actively. He retained all his control and abilities even into his one hundredth birthday. In 1931, he participated in a gallery exhibition with his son, Lewis Herzog.

Herman Herzog died on February 6, 1932, in his home in Philadelphia, at the age of 100.

Today, one can find paintings by Hermann Herzog in many museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The White House, Oakland Museum of California, Cornell Fine Arts Museum and Crocker Art Museum.