Willibald Sauerländer is a former Director of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich. His latest book is Manet Paints Monet: A Summer in Argenteuil. (May 2016)


The Triumph of Piero

Piero is a gripping narrator who never diverts our attention from the main figures and the predominant events. In the depiction of emotional agitation, emphatically recommended by aesthetic theories of the time, Piero is restrained. For him, it is gesture and especially gaze that are most important.

Happy Anniversary, Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin: Venus Weeping for Adonis, 1626

He was without doubt the dominant figure of seventeenth-century classicism, and many consider him to be the greatest French painter of all time. As an artist he is the equal of Corneille and Racine; however, his is not an art that appeals to popular taste. Everything about him is out …

A Surprise in Munich

Jan Brueghel the Elder: View of a Seaport with the Temperance of Scipio, 1600.

Brueghel: Gemälde von Jan Brueghel d. Ä. [Brueghel: The Paintings of Jan Brueghel the Elder]

an exhibition at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, March 22–June 16, 2013
Karel van Mander (1548–1606), the renowned biographer of the Netherlandish painters, concludes his life of Pieter Brueghel the Elder—the famous “Peasant Brueghel,” circa 1530–1569—with these sentences: He was survived by two sons, both good painters themselves. The one named Pieter studied with Gillis van Conincxloo and paints likenesses from nature.

The Genius of the Other Daumier

Honoré Daumier: ‘It’s a bit hard to be obliged to live in a barrel when one wasn’t born to be a Cynic’; from the series ‘Tenants and Landlords,’ Le Charivari, March 4, 1854. The lithograph illustrates the housing shortage in Paris under Napoleon III by playing on the story of the Greek cynic philosopher Diogenes, who slept in a barrel.

“Monsieur Daumier, Ihre Serie Ist Reizvoll!” Die Stiftung Kames [“Monsieur Daumier, Your Series Is Delightful!” The Kames Collection]

an exhibition at the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, December 6, 2012–February 17, 2013
The Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich has a remarkable new acquisition: over three thousand lithographs and thirty woodcuts by Honoré Daumier produced between 1833 and 1872, the politically and socially stormy decades in France between the reign of the Citizen King Louis Philippe and the Third Republic. In adding them …

The Continual Homecoming

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: Solitude, Recollection of Vigen, Limousin, 1866

Camille Corot: Natur und Traum [Camille Corot: Nature and Dream]

an exhibition at the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, Germany, September 29, 2012–January 6, 2013
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification in 1989–1990, the cultural climate of Western Europe has undergone a considerable change. Nowhere is the drop in temperature more noticeable than in the relationship between France and Germany. The aesthetic and social fascination that French literature, art, cinema—indeed, the …

Dürer and Renoir

Albrecht Dürer: The Adoration of the Magi, 1504

Der frühe Dürer [The Early Dürer]

an exhibition at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, May 24–September 2, 2012

Renoir. Zwischen Bohème und Bourgeoisie: Die frühen Jahre [Renoir. Between Bohemia and the Bourgeoisie: The Early Years]

an exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, April 1–August 12, 2012
Germany’s Greatest The year was 1928. On the four hundredth anniversary of Albrecht Dürer’s death, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg organized an impressive Dürer exhibition accompanied by a slim, softcover catalog of 124 pages. The information on the exhibited works was brief to the point of being laconic. The public …

The Queen of Cathedrals

The procession of King Louis XV after his coronation at Reims Cathedral in 1722; painting by Pierre-Denis Martin, 1724
This essay is based on a talk given in the Reims Cathedral on its eight hundredth anniversary in 2011. The France of the ancien régime had sites of sacred commemoration—above all in cathedrals and abbeys—where the monarchy and the church entered into a ritual alliance of immense symbolic significance. The …


Messerschmidt’s Mad Faces

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) is one of those elusive eighteenth-century figures who confront us with the nocturnal side of the enlightenment. In the eyes of his contemporaries, he was not only a madman but also a mad artist. At the same time that he began to withdraw from society, he started to work on the project that would isolate him artistically as well, the Kopfstücke, or “character heads,” in which he concentrated his efforts to depict the passions and emotions of humanity.