Berthold Woltze

Berthold Woltze (1829—1896) is a little-known German painter, illustrator, and art teacher of the second half of the 19th century. He is most commonly cited for his painting The Annoying Gentleman (1874).

Early Life

Woltze was born in Saxony-Anhalt, a region in the North-East of Germany. He relocated to Weimar, the intellectual and artistic centre of the German-speaking world. Woltze likely sought education and then employment in Weimar, the city in which he resided for the rest of his life. Little is known of Berthold Woltze’s detailed biography.

Teachings & Influence

Berthold Woltze certainly became a professor at the eminent Weimar Saxon Grand Ducal Art School, a proof of his academic success and recognition. Woltze joined the School at a time of its ideological move away from the academic, classicist tradition and toward a Realism inspired by the Barbizon school.

This reaction to the Romantic movement is known for its rich landscapes based on the principle of a dominant hue, but its exponents cultivated also the genre painting which, like their landscapes, centred round homely scenes drawn from the lives of simple people. Something of this conception, taught at the Weimar School, is to be found in Woltze.

Employment at The Gartenlaube

At the same time, in the 1870s, Woltze is a contributor, mainly in the capacity of illustrator, to the Gartenlaube. This was a Leipzig-based illustrated weekly, the first of its kind in the world.

By the time Woltze joined it in 1871, the Gartenlaube had become the largest-circulation newspaper in the German-speaking lands. 1871 was also the year of German Unification, when Gartenlaube automatically became Germany’s premier weekly. In the 1880s, it would claim the largest readership of any regular publication in the world.

Its target demographic was the German middle class; it wished to be a family paper, indeed one that would be read aloud in the family (a not-common practice at the time).
Berthold Woltze specialised in genre scenes, most commonly involving women and often based on an identifiable circumstance which on its own implied a story.

Berthold Woltze’s Paintings

Several of his paintings centre round a letter: news from a family member in America, disconcerting bad news, news possibly pilfered by a postman.

While some of these visions contain an undeniable element of tension — such as the undated Letter, in which a young mother leans on a wall with a vacant expression, having just read the contents of a letter, her little daughter demanding her attention meanwhile — others are simple snapshots of life caught from aside in which the social circumstance is more suggestive than anything the human characters are doing or expressing — such as the again undated In the Tavern.

The Annoying Gentleman

But in the mostly obscure career of Berthold Woltze without any doubt, the most famous artwork is The Annoying Gentleman of 1874, also known in English as The Irritating Gentlemen, The Annoying Cavalier in mimicry of the German Der lästige Kavalier.

The Annoying Gentleman portrays a train-carriage scene in which a young woman dressed in black — either in mourning or out of exceptional reserve — is looking us, the spectators, in the eye while a self-satisfied man, fashionably dressed, protrudes above the partition behind her with an insinuating smile, as if to engage her in a flirt.

What gives pause to the viewer is the quick realisation that something human is amiss in this excellent genre composition. The viewer espies that the young woman’s eyes are not merely lucid: she is in fact crying. He or she might then note the unease on the other passenger’s face…

Berthold Woltze died relatively young, in 1896, in Weimar, his acquired home city. His son Peter Woltze (1860—1925) became known as a painter of architecture.

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