Adalbert Stifter was an Austrian writer, painter and poet closely associated with the Biedermeier, a movement that originated in Vienna. After studying at the University of Vienna, he worked as a tutor for aristocratic families before becoming a supervisor of elementary schools. As a teacher he was super strict, a “pedagogue”. His writings are particularly revered for their vivid descriptions of the natural landscape.
Some of the biggest names in literature knew Stifter well. The existential writer, Kafka called him “my fat brother”; according to Thomas Mann he was “one of the most peculiar, enigmatic, secretly audacious and strangely gripping storytellers in world literature.” Often misunderstood as an idyllic poet of “beetles and buttercups,” Today Adalbert Stifter is seen as a radical experimenter with narrative and a forerunner of the darkest currents in nature writing.
It’s not only his writing that has that “most peculiar, enigmatic, secretly audacious and strangely gripping” quality that Thomas Mann loved so much. His paintings have it too.
In nature, said Stifter, we “seek to glimpse the gentle law that guides the human race,” These little known Stifter paintings are evidence he could do with oils what he did with the written word, and they do give us that “glimpse”.