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 Adelheid Dietrich  (1827 - 1891)

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Lived/Active: Germany      Known for: opulent still-life painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Adelheid Dietrich
1827 (Wittenberg, Germany)
1891 (Erfurt)


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opulent still-life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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Born in Wittenberg, Germany, Adelheid Dietrich became known for her complex, highly colorful and realistic floral still life paintings of which about fifty have been found in collections.   Her teacher was her father, painter Eduard Dietrich (1803–1877).  Her style was that of the seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painters.

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Biography from Heritage Auctions (
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Adelheid Dietrich was born in Wittenberg, Germany.  The little that is known about her life has been deduced from exhibition records as well as the slim biography of her father, Eduard Dietrich (Spremburg 1803-1877), a landscape, architecture and history painter with whom she trained.  He served for many years as a drawing professor in Erfurt, which is where she apparently also lived and worked.  Whether she had a family of her own is unknown.  Her father is recorded as having had some public success: he exhibited his work in the Berlin Academy exhibitions in 1832 and 1836, and also painted a scene of Luther's living room for the Prussian King, Friedrich Wilhelm III (1797-1840). 

For a full twenty years, from 1850 to 1870 according to Thieme-Becker (vol. IX, pp. 257-8), Adelheid's paintings were included in various exhibitions across Germany, where they were admired for their "extremely careful execution."  Of the approximately fifty traceable works by her hand, nearly all are flower paintings characterized by a crystalline intensity, and painted in the finest detail with extraordinary technical facility--notably in the draftsmanship which is doubtless a testament to her father's excellent tutelage.  She also painted fruit still lives, and combination flower-and-fruit pieces, with the same dazzling precision.  She used both canvas and wooden panel as supports, and nearly always dated her works in addition to signing them with her full name in inconspicuous places in the compositions.

Her period of activity, judging from extant dated paintings, appears to have been circa 1864 to circa 1883, with the 1860s being her most productive phase.  Since she worked so meticulously, she tended to paint on a rather small scale, with the average format being roughly that of the present picture.   In addition to their technical virtuosity, Dietrich's flower pieces display a thorough understanding of and familiarity with the botanical subjects she chose to paint.  In keeping with the taste of her time, Dietrich tended to represent common "garden variety" flowers rather than exotic horticultural specimens which, broadly speaking, characterized earlier traditions of flower painting.  For this reason, and in spite on their sometimes quasi-formal presentations in footed glass vases, Dietrich's bouquets nearly always possess a friendly, casual appearance with trailing grasses and a feeling of exuberant abundance.  Indeed, during the Victorian period, common garden flowers were endowed with an incredibly elaborate rubric of symbolic meaning that was rehearsed in poetry, music, jewelry and fabric design, furniture and, naturally, painting, prints and sculpture as well: violets meaning purity, lilies of the valley meaning return of happiness, red roses meaning love, yellow ones meaning friendship, daisies meaning innocence and so on.

As a number of still-life scholars have noted, Adelheid Dietrich's compositions are indebted to the work of the great 17th-century Dutch flower painters.  But to be somewhat more precise, Dietrich's compositions rely much more heavily upon the early 18th-century work of Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch, as well as early 19th-century French flower painters following the tradition of the Van Spaendoncks.  Many of the specific features of Dietrich's work can be traced specifically to the unique ways Ruysch conceived her floral arrangements.  In particular, the bouquets have an asymmetrical, triangulated shape which is anchored near the lower center by the largest blossoms with deepest throats (such as lilies or bindweed blossoms).  These are surrounded by many varieties of smaller flowers and grasses which soften the profile of the bouquet.  Historically, Ruysch was one of the first still-life specialists to explore the motif of the "nosegay," a bouquet without any container and composed of common garden flowers, which became a mainstay of 19th-century flower painting.  Ruysch's work would have been accessible to Dietrich in many public and princely collections in Germany, in Düsseldorf, Fulda, Munich, Leipzig, Frankfurt, and elsewhere.

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