Possibly acquired directly from the artist by Anton Mayer;
Collection of Franz Xavier Mayer, Vienna;
Norbert Mayer, Vienna;
Dr. Karl Ruhmann, Vienna, thence by descent in the family until 2016
Vienna, Akademie fur Bildende Künste. Exhibition, 1837, No. 208.
Vienna, Galerie Miethke, 1904, no.14.
Innsbruck, Österreichische Malerei des 19 Jahrhunderts aus
Privatbesitz, 1907, No. 87, ill. 85.
Bruno Grimschitz, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Salzburg, 1957,
P.318, No. 467 (ill.)
Friederich von Boetticher, Malerwerke des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts,
vol. II/2, 4 Edition, Hemsbach 1979, P. 968, No. 32.
Rupert Feuchtmüller, Ferdinand George Waldmüller 1793-1865,
Vienna/Munich 1996, p. 469, WV No. 519 (ill.)
Following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which put a final end to the
Napoleonic conflicts that had ravaged Europe for the previous two decades,
Vienna, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the associated Germanic states
enjoyed a relative calm until 1848. The term Biedermeier refers to a variety of
art forms which flourished during this time period. Many artists avoided
political and historic subjects and rather chose to concentrate on domestic
themes and local landscapes. Along with the portraits by artists such as Friedrich
von Amerling, landscapes by the likes of Friedrich Gauermann and Thomas
Ender, the genre scenes and landscapes by Waldmüller came to define the age.
Waldmüller himself arose from modest beginnings; his ancestors coming from
farming and domestic serving families. Though he enrolled in the Academy of
Fine Arts in 1807 and later was made a teacher there in 1819, he had a difficult
relationship with the Academy. He advocated a close observation of nature that
was at times at odds with the Academy’s classical curriculum of instruction. The
artists’ early output consisted primarily of portraits and numerous copies after
Old Master paintings. Portrait commissions were to be a mainstay of
Waldamüller’s livelihood through the 1850s and he was able to attract many
While he continued to be successful courting Viennese aristocracy for important
commissions, by the 1830s Waldmüller began to produce the landscapes and
genre scenes of the Austrian countryside for which he now is most famous. His
landscapes are almost exclusively from areas outside the city of Vienna. Many
depict the mountains and valleys around the spa town of Bad Ischl high in the
Salzkammergut. The relatively few works that are of Vienna focus on the
massive trees of Prater, the alluvial island park along the Danube. Similarly, his
genre paintings revolve, almost exclusively, on scenes of daily life of the
farming families in the countryside. Though Waldmüller produced a number of
impressive still lifes in his career, the genre was never a large part of his output.
In his early forays, he produced still lifes not dissimilar from canvases by his
kinsman Franz Xavier Petter with the inclusion of exotic elements such as
pineapples and parrots.
Dog Guarding a Basket of Grapes with a View of Heiligenstadt and the Danube
in the Distance is dated 1836. From his sketchbooks, we know that Waldmüller
took rooms in Heiligenstadt around July of 1834 and recorded the surrounding
countryside. The town of Heiligenstadt was a small community known for its
viniculture on the outskirts of Vienna. It was a popular destination for the
Viennese citizenry to spend a day in the country exploring the Weinerwald or
visiting a Heuriger, or wine garden, many of which dotted the countryside. In
Waldmuller’s day, it was a short carriage ride from the center of Vienna. It is,
perhaps, best known for Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Statement. The composer
spent a summer there in 1802 and wrote a deeply moving letter decrying the toll
his incipient deafness was taking on his gifts and the increasing isolation that
In the present work, Waldmüller clearly establishes the location of the wine
country with a view of the onion-domed Heiligenstadt church and the Danube in
the distance. In the foreground he has presented the fruits of the region - a basket
of grapes. With near granular clarity he displays the variety of winemaking
grapes overflowing the basket with the unseen laborer’s pastel plaid kerchief
and harvesting knife in the foreground. The figure of a perky and alert dog
stands guard at the left.
Waldmuller was not necessarily known as a specialist in animal painting. In his
farming scenes, there may occasionally appear the odd cow or chicken, but the
focus is primarily on the people. However, his keen powers of observation do
allow him to make convincing renderings of the animals. In several of his
portraits, particularly those of children, he included the family dog (fig. 1).
The breed of dog in this painting conforms primarily to the phenotype of a
Chihuahua. The sickle shaped tail and erect ears, muzzle and eyes are consistent
with that of the modern smooth-coated variety of the breed. However, based on
the basket he guards, he would be a bit large compared to the present day breed.
According to most histories, the origin of the breed dates back for centuries to
Central America. However, there are suggestions of a similar breed established
in Malta dating back to the Renaissance. There have been attempts to show the
breed's existence in Europe through artistic documentation; most astonishingly,
in Botticelli's Scenes from the Life of Moses in the Sistine Chapel (fig. 2). As for
the existence of a Chihuahua in Austria in 1836, it is not out of the realm of
possibility, even for a dog of Mexican origin. It must be remembered, that less
than 30 years later, the ill-fated Maximillian, younger brother of Emperor Franz
Joseph, was to sit on the throne of Mexico. It would be intriguing to know if
there was some sort of diplomatic/trade tie that may have brought this animal to
Austria at the time.
The present work may have been acquired directly from the artist by the brewer
Anton Mayer. Waldmüller painted portraits of Mayer and his wife Luise Mayer
(fig. 3 & 4) in 1836, the same year that this work was executed.
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