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Self-portrait in Kimono, 1872, Dresden, Gemaldegal

Hans von Marees: 1837 - 1887

Hans von Marees was born in Elberfeld, Germany, on December 24, 1837. Demonstrating an early talent for painting, he was sent at the age of 16 to the Berlin Academy. He left with a thorough training as a draftsman but small experience of painting. In 1857, then aged 20, he settled in Munich and worked on his own.

His subjects were largely country scenes, painted in a realistic manner overlaid with sentimentality. More important at this time were his portraits, notably the Portrait of the Artist's Father, 1862, and the Self-portrait with Lenbach, 1863. The Bath of Diana, also of 1863, was unusual in Germany for its richness and warmth of color.

In 1864 Marees was helped out of a financial crisis by a Baron Schack of Munich, who bought one of his pictures and sent him to Italy to copy old masters. In Rome, where he lived from 1865, the impact of Renaissance art overwhelmed him. He made copies of Titian, Raphael, and Velazquez, feeling that he must learn to paint again from the beginning and that his progress hitherto had been worthless.

He broke with Baron Schack, but was rescued once more from financial difficulties by the generosity of a friend, Konrad Fiedler, who supported him from 1868. In 1869 they traveled together to Spain, France and Holland, a journey that provided the second turning point in Marees' career and broughtto his work a more direct realism of subject, color, and composition. Side by side with this remained his own inherent idealism, his Romantic emotion.

After service in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to 1871, Marees lived for a time in Berlin and Dresden. Now, in addition to numerous, often striking commissioned portraits and several self portraits, he painted evocative idylls from his memories of the Roman countryside. When he returned to Italy in 1873 to decorate the library walls of the recently built Naples Zoological Institute, he took for the subject of his large frescos the Neapolitan life around him. Out of its everyday simplicity he wrought the most powerful series of frescos to be produced in the 19th century. They were finished in four months.

In 1874 Marees settled in Florence with a sculptor who had been his colleague at the Zoological Institute. He also made friends with the Swiss Romantic painter Arnold Bocklin, who had moved to Florence the same year. Marees died in Rome on June 5, 1887, at the age of 49.

His last works; rich in light and color, reverted again and again to the idyllic theme of nudes in a landscape. This depiction of a symbolic, instinctive interaction of man and nature provided a foretaste of the Expressionism of the 20th century.

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