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 Wilhelm Von Diez  (1839 - 1907)

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Lived/Active: Germany      Known for: landscape, portrait, historical and religious painting, animal sketches

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.


Wilhelm von Diez, born in Bayreuth, Germany on 17 January 1839, had a profound effect on an international group of students, including those American expatriate painters who chose Munich for their European training.  In his classes at the Munich Royal Academy Diez allowed and encouraged experimentation with strong color and free brushwork.  One American student in particular, Frank Duveneck, was so enthusiastic about this teacher's methods that he pulled significant numbers of his American compatriots into his classes.  "Wilhelm Diez . . . must be considered the most important link between Munich and American art" (Quick, Ruhmer, and West, 1978, p. 25).

Diez studied art initially in his home town, Bayreuth.  As a teenager he went to Munich to continue his training under leading teacher Karl Theodor von Piloty, but he dropped out of school and studied independently, supporting himself as an illustrator.  By 1870, however, Diez was invited by Piloty to teach at the Academy.  There, with the support of Duveneck, Diez became one of the teachers of choice for American expatriates.  Many Indiana painters, however, preferred Ludwig von Loefftz.  Among the American impressionists who studied in Munich at the Royal Academy or with Diez protégé Duveneck were Walter Shirlaw, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Porter Vinton, Thomas Dewing, Julius Rolshoven, J. Frank Currier, Joseph R. DeCamp, Otto Bacher, and John H. Twachtman.  Diez took part in the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878.  Besides Munich, his works are to be found in the museums of Königsberg, Leipzig (Scene from the Thirty Years' War), Hamburg and Berlin.

Paintings by Diez show heavy influence of seventeenth-century Dutch painters, such as Adriaen Brouwer.  Diez painted historical and religious subjects, landscapes, portraits, and did animal studies.  Buoyed by victory in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, exposed to modern art by the major international art exhibition in 1869, and boasting a strong art market, Munich was a lively place for art students during the 1870s.  Diez inspired his students and gave them confidence to try the techniques of the new art movement, truly, a broadly based international movement that is related to American impressionism in its essential painterly technique, loose brushwork, and emphasis on common, everyday subject matter.  The painter died in Munich, on 25 February 1907.

Weimer, Aloysius, "The Munich Period in American Art," Diss., University of Michigan, 1940; Duveneck, Josephine, Frank Duveneck, Painter - Teacher. San Francisco: John Howell Books, 1970, pp. 39, 45, 56; Quick, Michael, Eberhard Ruhmer, and Richard V. West, Munich & American Realism in the 19th Century. Sacramento, CA: Crocker Art Gallery, 1978; Neuhaus, Robert, Unsuspected Genius: The Art and Life of Frank Duveneck. San Francisco: Bedford Press, 1987, pp. 8, 10, 13-15, 17, 18, 35, 58, 59, 81, 101.

Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

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