So much of the very best painterly talent in has been squandered on grand military scenes, battles and victories: pompous portraits of royals, noble people and generals: and insipid genre scenes. It comes as a pleasant surprise when amongst all this wallpaper, accomplished as it may be, we discover a small percentage of stand out oddities.
Such is the case with the German-born Austrian painter, Johann Peter Krafft (1780-1856). He poured his time and exceptional technical ability into the usual fare; commissioned portraits, grand historical works, epic canvasses of 500 year old wars and soft, “pleasing” genre scenarios.
Let’s be honest, it’s his interpretations of legends, re-imagined scenes from traditional tales and those small unexpected off-kilter unique incidents that have held up over time and pass the “meh” test of today.
What’s not to love about a knight and a nude on an eagle-headed horse leaping over a sea monster, a pair of David’s holding severed Goliath heads or a pauper’s coffin borne on the backs of black cloaked men on an empty road in a mountain landscape being followed by the Emperor Francis?
Krafft could really paint. He was a prodigy. By the age of ten, he was already attending drawing school. His father was an enamel painter from a family of wine merchants in Alsace, his brother, a painter of portrait miniatures.
In 1799, the boy Karfft left Germany with his sister to live with an aunt in Vienna. There he joined the Academy of Fine Arts, and studied history painting with one Heinrich Heinrich Füger. In 1802, he travelled to Paris with Veit Hanns Schnorr von Carolsfeld to continue his studies. There, he made the acquaintance of Jacques-Louis David and François Gérard who had a major influence on his style.
By 1805 he was back in Vienna where he established himself as a popular portrait painter. From 1808 to 1809, he went on a study trip through Italy. In 1828, Krafft was appointed director of the Imperial and Royal Picture Gallery in Belvedere Palace. He died at the age of 76 in Vienna.
In 1885, a street in the Leopoldstadt district was named after him.