Explore the emergence of the cult of Nietzsche through an iconic sculpture.
By the time he died in 1900, Friedrich Nietzsche had become one of the most influential thinkers of his time. Often seen as a radical prophet of modernism, he had a major impact on the artistic and cultural world of Weimar Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A bronze sculpture of the celebrated philosopher by Max Klinger is the central work in this new Masterpiece in Focus exhibition. One of the most acclaimed German artists of his day, Klinger drew inspiration from the philosopher’s death mask and several photographs.
The exhibition — which also features a variety of work by Henry van de Velde, Edvard Munch, Curt Stoeving and others — explores the creation of an “official Nietzsche” by Klinger and his patrons, and looks at how an iconic sculpture ultimately became a cult image.
– Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), The Birth of Tragedy, 1872
Seeking to create a utopian “New Weimar,” key cultural and artistic figures of the day developed an almost cult-like devotion to Nietzsche and his writings. Some had known Nietzsche in life, but many more adopted Nietzschean principles in response to the zeitgeist of the time.
Max Klinger’s worldview was shaped by figures as diverse as Charles Darwin and Arthur Schopenhauer, and his artistic influences ranged from the Classical sculpture of Greece and Rome, to the Italian Renaissance, to the art of Rodin.
Commissioned by Count Harry Kessler to produce a marble herm for the assembly hall of the Nietzsche Archive in Weimar, Germany, Klinger later cast three monumental bronze copies, one of which is the bronze bust in this exhibition.
Born into a prominent German banking family, Count Harry Kessler encountered Nietzsche in 1895. Kessler was a key supporter of both the philosopher and the new Nietzsche Archive and, in 1902, joined the board of Weimar’s art museum, acquiring important works and organizing more than thirty exhibitions on French, English and German avant-garde art.
Henry van de Velde was a Belgian painter, architect and designer. As director of Weimar’s school of applied arts, his first major commission involved transforming the new Nietzsche Archive into a Modernist setting for a growing Nietzsche cult. He also created new editions of Nietzsche works, which became emblematic of avant-garde book design.
Norwegian artist Edvard Munch first discovered Nietzsche in his native Oslo. Invited by Kessler to Weimar and the Nietzsche Archive in 1904, Munch found himself identifying strongly with Nietzsche and his tragic end. His grand portraits of both Nietzsche and Kessler continue to dominate the image of the New Weimar.
This Masterpiece in Focus exhibition sheds light on the incredible productive dialogue between Nietzsche’s philosophy and famous avant-garde artists around 1900. Learn more with guest curator Sebastian Schütze.
– Salvador Dalí, Diary of a Genius