Biedermeier

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Biedermeier

(bē`dərmīər), name applied, at first in a joking spirit, to a period of European culture and a style of furniture, decoration, and art originating in Germany early in the 19th cent. and especially popular there and in Austria. It is believed to have been named for the worthy, bourgeois-minded "Papa Biedermeier," a humorous character featured in a series of verses by Ludwig Eichrodt, published in Fliegende Blätter. The Biedermeier period found expression in comfortable, homelike furnishings, simple in design and inexpensive in material, fitting the requirements of the German people in a time of little wealth following the Napoleonic Wars. Although the best Biedermeier furniture was produced between 1820 and 1830, the period is regarded as extending from 1815 to 1848.

Biedermeier designs were simplified forms of the French Empire and Directoire styles and of some 18th-century English styles, and were often elegant in their utilitarian simplicity. Later pieces, however, were frequently clumsy and tasteless. At their best, cabinets and other large pieces are handsome and severe in line and surface. Chairs and sofas show curved lines, frequently graceful, but sometimes exaggerated into swellings and contortions. Light-colored native fruitwoods were typically used, with contrasting bands of black lacquer often effectively substituted for the costly ebony of Empire pieces. Painted decorations reminiscent of peasant types were common. The furniture style regained popularity in the latter part of the 20th cent. and, in its stylized simplicity, has been cited as a forerunner of art decoart deco
or art moderne
, term that designates a style of design that originated in French luxury goods shortly before World War I and became ubiquitously and internationally popular during the 1920s and 30s.
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, BauhausBauhaus
, artists' collective and school of art and architecture in Germany (1919–33). The Bauhaus revolutionized art training by combining the teaching of classic arts with the study of crafts.
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, and other modern styles of design. In painting, the preference during the Biedermeier period was for cheerful and detailed landscapes, historical subjects, and genre scenes. Artists of the era include Moritz von SchwindSchwind, Moritz von
, 1804–71, Austrian historical painter and illustrator of the romantic school. Best known for the imagination and strength of his draftsmanship, Schwind created a gay world of dream figures.
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, Karl SpitzwegSpitzweg, Carl
, 1808–85, German genre painter and draftsman. Self-taught, he depicted the daily life of his native Munich in small, charming pictures in which realism, fancy, and humor are happily combined.
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, Franz Krüger, and Ferdinand Waldmüller.

Bibliography

See studies by G. Hemmelheber (1976), W. Quoika-Stanka (1987), A. Wilkie (1987), and R. Pressler (1996).

Biedermeier

 

(or Biedermaier), a style that developed mainly in German and Austrian art circa 1815–48.

The Biedermeier style received its name from a simple-hearted German commoner whose fictitious surname appeared in the title of L. Eichrodt’s collection of poems Biedermaiers Liederlust (published in 1850). Economic progress during the restoration of the feudal police regime contributed to the appearance of an apolitical philistine commoner characteristic of the burgher class and preoccupied with personal welfare. In its spirit of intimacy and domestic coziness, the German commoner’s concept of a respectably organized life corresponded to the Biedermeier style’s characteristic adaptation of the Empire style (primarily in interiors and decorative and applied arts).

The Biedermeier style was characterized by unbroken papered wall surfaces in pastel tones (yellow, blue, and pink) with a pattern of tiny flowers; similar upholstery of stuffed, good quality furniture of unpainted light wood (birch, linden, or ash), of lighter proportions than Empire furniture but very sturdy and durable; stoneware dishes in the style of English Wedgwood; women’s corseted dresses with narrow waists, puffed sleeves, and lace trimming; and patterned waistcoats, colorful tight frock coats, and top hats for men. In a vulgarized, cheapened way the Biedermeier style copied aristocratic customs of the turn of the century, but the Biedermeier style was more comfortable and tidier than the aristocratic style.

Biedermeier painting, which was a distinct variant of romantic painting, was influenced by the petitbourgeois liberal democratic movement. In the Biedermeier style concern for the private man, the small joys of the petite bourgeoisie, the everyday life of burghers, peasants, and natural surroundings replaced the interest in exceptional personalities that was typical of romanticism. Biedermeier paintings are small. The technique is fine and painstaking. Biedermeier painting shows an interest in the environment, in daylight or artificial light, a love for the details of everyday life, and a striving to achieve intimacy and sincerity of images, often with a touch of humor. Biedermeier art lacks a moving principle. This stamps it with thematic narrowness, contemplativeness, and idealization of a serene, mainly family way of life. This is shown in G. F. Kersting’s genre portraits, with their subtle poeticizing of the cozy interiors of the homes of burghers; L. Richter’s somewhat sentimental genre scenes against backgrounds of idyllic landscapes; C. Spitzweg’s paintings of everyday episodes in the lives of eccentric commoners, which are imbued with sympathetic humor; J. P. Hasenclever’s intimate genre paintings; and the lively studies of street scenes in F. Kriiger’s paintings of parades. Typical masters of the Biedermeier style were M. Schwind, an Austrian painter of poetic landscapes, genre paintings, and works on literary subjects and fairy tales, in which the charm of folk legends is rendered with gentle humor; and F. G. Waldmiiller, who painted portraits rich in details of everyday life and idyllic genre scenes and landscapes. The work of the Danish artists K. V. Eckersberg and C. Købke is close to the Biedermeier style; however, it is marked by greater directness of observation and a total abandonment of idealization.

REFERENCES

Schmidt, P. F. Biedermeier-Malerei. Munich [1922].
Boehn, M. von. Biedermeier: Deutschland von 1815–1847. [Berlin], 1923.
Bauernfeld, E. von. Wiener Biedermeier. Vienna, 1960.

I. M. GLOZMAN