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.
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.
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’.
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).
Abundance and Fertility in prints and drawings
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.
Still lifes of fruit, vegetables and flowers
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.