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up to and including 01 April 2013

Hans Makart's ‘Abundantia’

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen exhibited an extraordinary painting on loan from the Ger Eenens Collection: ‘Abundantia’ by the celebrity painter Hans Makart (1840-1884). This enormous canvas, measuring 1.5 x 4.5 metres, impresses through its swirling composition of warm colours against a gold background, in which Abundantia, the personification of prosperity, takes central place.

The painting portrays 'Abundantia' with the 'gifts of the Earth'. Abundantia was the Roman goddess of abundance and fertility. This exhibition presented examples from the 16th century to the present day in paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures. Key to this selection was the subject matter of Makart’s painting. The exhibition presents works by artists such as Paulus Moreelse and Michelangelo Cerquozzi, and also includes a photo series by the contemporary photographer Sharon Lockhart, as well as sculptures by Paul McCarthy and Boris van Berkum.

Hans Makart painted the composition in 1870 for the dining room of a palatial mansion on Vienna’s Ring. The Viennese were instantly struck by 'Abundantia' and Makart painted several repeats of it, parts of them executed by his workshop assistants. The canvas in the Ger Eenens Collection is regarded as an autograph. Musée d'Orsay and the Salzburg Museum have other versions.

Hans Makart

By the end of his relatively short life Hans Makart had achieved the status of a superstar. Between 1869 and 1884 Vienna was living in the ‘Makart Era’. The artist made his mark on the sophisticated life of the city. Fans queued outside his workshop, which was open to the public at set times, for an admission fee, and served as the venue for exclusive parties.

Makart was a big name outside Austria too. His paintings went on long tours, taking in European and American cities, and between 1871 and 1880 ‘Abundantia’ was exhibited in places such as Berlin, Leipzig, New York, Philadelphia, Amsterdam and London. The international media reported these events at great length and visitors wrote about them in letters and diaries.

Makart’s star status and feeling for publicity made him the Andy Warhol of his day. But unlike Warhol’s, Makart’s fame swiftly evaporated after his death. Paintings by Makart are rarely found in museum collections outside Austria and Germany; there are none at all in Dutch museums.

Hans Makart
Hans Makart (Salzburg 1840 - Vienna 1884)

Makart’s ‘Abundantia’ - Abundance and Fertility in Art

How has Makart visualised Abundantia? Explore the rich tradition of images of abundance and fertility and discover the relevance of this theme today.

In 2011 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen received an unusual loan from the Ger Eenens collection: a large canvas by the Austrian celebrity painter Hans Makart (1840-1884). It depicts Abundantia, a divine personification of abundance and fertility in Roman mythology, with the ‘gifts of the earth’. Traditionally she is represented a young woman with a ‘cornucopia’: a horn of plenty overflowing with fruits and flowers. How has Makart visualised her?

 

Makart and his ‘Abundantia’

Makart painted the composition in 1870 for the dining room of the Palais Hoyos, built by Otto Wagner on Vienna’s Ring. ‘Abundantia’ was an immediate sensation with Viennese society and Makart produced several replicas, partly executed by his studio assistants. The canvas in the Eenens collection was painted by Makart himself. Other versions are to be found in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay and the Salzburg Museum.

An album of reproductions of Makart’s best-known works was published shortly after his death. It included ‘Abundantia’. According to the text it was ‘undoubtedly one of Makart’s most important and valuable creations’.

Makart and his ‘Abundantia’
Makart-Album, publisher: Franz Bondy, circa 1882, print on paper
Richness and wealth: Abundantia, the Gifts of the Earth

Curator Peter van der Coelen has grouped works from the collection from the 16the century until now around Hans Makarts ‘Abundantia’, all featuring the same theme.

Abundance and fertility in prints and drawings
The earliest portrayals of the goddess Abundantia date from Roman times. She first appears in European printmaking in the 16th century, often in the classic form of a woman with a horn of plenty. Abundance and fertility also feature in depictions of Earth (in sets of prints showing the four elements) and Summer (in sets of the four seasons).

 

 

Abuntia

Anonymous, designer Hendrick Goltzius, Terra (Earth), 1586, engraving on paper, bequest: Dr. J.C.J. Bierens de Haan 1951
Anonymous, designer Hendrick Goltzius, Terra (Earth), 1586, engraving on paper, bequest: Dr. J.C.J. Bierens de Haan 1951
Crispijn de Passe (I), Summer, circa 1590 - 1600, engraving on paper, bequest: Dr. J.C.J. Bierens de Haan 1951
Crispijn de Passe (I), Summer, circa 1590 - 1600, engraving on paper, bequest: Dr. J.C.J. Bierens de Haan 1951

Painters like Rubens and Jordaens designed allegorical scenes around Abundance in which the main figure was not Abundantia but Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and the harvest, who likewise has a cornucopia as her attribute.

Jacob Jordaens, Allegory of Abundance, circa 1640-1645, black and red chalk, brush and brown ink on paper, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940 (collection Koenigs)

Still lifes of fruit, vegetables and flowers

Still lifes of fruit became extremely popular as a subject for paintings in the 17th century, especially in the Low Countries. Although they do not usually contain specific allegorical motifs, works of this kind are generally an ode to the Earth’s bounty, like in Jan Davidszoon de Heem's 'Still life with ham, lobster and fruit' (1653). From time immemorial fruit has been a symbol of fertility and abundance, and Makart makes copious use of it to express this significance in his painting.

Sumptuous still life

Sumptuous still life

De Heem, who was active in Antwerp and Utrecht, is known as the inventor of the ‘sumptuous’ or ‘ornate’ still life in which precious silver and glass and delicious food are displayed on a truly grand scale. Affluence and abundance are the order of the day. All these delights are transient in the extreme, but here the viewer is barely reminded of it.

Seductive fruits

Fruits are an essential feature of seduction scenes. A good example is the bunch of grapes in Paulus Moreelse’s painting from circa 1630, which shows Vertumnus attempting to seduce Pomona.

Seductive fruits
Paulus Moreelse, Vertumnus and Pomona, circa 1630, oil on canvas, purchase: 1865
Pomegranate Harvest

Pomegranate Harvest

Several decades later Michelangelo Cerquozzi painted the pomegranate harvest. A young woman looks longingly at a young man who is handing her a fruit that has burst open. It is not for nothing that the pomegranate has always been considered an aphrodisiac..

Abundantia now

Whereas the Abundance painted by Makart and his predecessors was always conceived of as something beautiful, from the 20th century onwards the subject acquired a negative connotation - excess - associated with the rise of the consumer society. This can be found in the work of Paul McCarthy, who provides a commentary on the western lifestyle with its media madness and urge to consume.

Yet there are contemporary artists who give a positive spin on the abundance. Sharon Lockhart made a set of ten photographs of a Brazilian woman, Maria da Conceiçao Pereira de Souza, who holds up a different fruit in each photo. This is fruit that grows on her island, Apeú Salvador.

Abundantia now
Paul McCarthy, Santa Candy Cane, 2004, painted bronze, loan: Jan Grosfeld 2007

Abundantia nu

Sharon Lockhart, Maria da Conceição Pereira de Souza with the Fruits of the Island of Apeú-Salvador, Pará, Brazil (ajirú), 1999, colour photograph, purchase: 2000
Sharon Lockhart, Maria da Conceição Pereira de Souza with the Fruits of the Island of Apeú-Salvador, Pará, Brazil (ajirú), 1999, colour photograph, purchase: 2000
Sharon Lockhart, Maria da Conceição Pereira de Souza with the Fruits of the Island of Apeú-Salvador, Pará, Brazil (coco), 1999, colour photograph, purchase: 2000
Sharon Lockhart, Maria da Conceição Pereira de Souza with the Fruits of the Island of Apeú-Salvador, Pará, Brazil (coco), 1999, colour photograph, purchase: 2000

Do you want to know more about this theme? ARTtube Series: Richness and Wealth