Anton Graff’s portraits are famous the world over, but the artist himself does not enjoy the same notoriety.
Now Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie is hosting a major exhibition of works by the Swiss portrait artist, who immortalised the faces of the rich and famous during the German enlightenment.
Born in Switzerland in 1736, Graff started studying painting at the age of 17. He moved to Germany a few years later, where his talent was soon recognised. Graff went on to become Germany’s leading portrait painter of the time.
“He immortalised the most famous thinkers, poets, citizens, and members of the royal family – both men and women – in captivating portraits. A large number of these paintings have survived to this day. Some of the most famous portraits in German history, like Schiller or Fredrick the Great, were painted by Anton Graff. Everyone in Germany knows these pictures, but a lot of people don’t actually know who did them,” says Philipp Demandt, director of the Alte Nationalgalerie.
“The crucial feature is always the eyes. It is about the magic of the gaze, the eye is a window to the soul. The eyes play a very important role. Most of his portraits concentrate on the faces, not on the whole body. For him it was really about showing the soul and the spirit of his models, he really was a master at this,” says Philipp Demandt.
Graff taught portrait painting at the Art Academy in the city of Dresden where he spent most of his life.
A prolific artist, Graff produced some 2,000 paintings and drawings during his life-time. Around 150 of them are on display at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie until February 2014.