Karl Heffner was a well-regarded German landscape painter in oils and watercolours. He trained in Munich under Adolf Stademann and Adolf Heinrich Lier. His works are held in numerous public collections including at the V&A in London.
The turbulent British weather with its electrifying mood swings, rapid showers and unpredictability has often been the butt of numerous jokes by those sheltering in warmer abodes. Much like its inhabitants, the no-nonsense climate bustles with eccentricity - the damp chill of an October morning morphs into a radiant mid-afternoon and concludes with thunder.
European artists have traditionally tended to avoid it, preferring instead the promise of brighter, less erratic, environs on the continent. Pitching their easels in France, Germany, and Italy in a fervent light-obsessed pilgrimage. But Karl Heffner was altogether different, rather than join his artistic brethren, he crossed the Channel to tackle the wilds of the English countryside.
He’d travelled previously, including to Rome, but did so during the Winter when the conditions were less than stereotypical. Blue skies were absent from his vocabulary, they lacked drama, mood, and melancholy-tipped tonality. His palette was low-key, grey, earthy, with strips of glistening gold reserved for a drifting sun.
London gallery owner Thomas McLean soon made his acquaintance and forged a productive relationship. MacLean was a print-seller, holding exhibitions at his Haymarket Gallery, which he proudly advertised as ‘next to the theatre’. Numerous works by Heffner were engraved, which bolstered his popularity not only in the UK but also in France and ultimately back home.
His interpretation of the British landscape was unusual, subdued, and at times desolate. Leafless trees stretch for passing clouds, their sinuous limbs scrabbling for light in a symphony of feathery brushwork. Figures stand silhouetted, bitten by a chill whipping across a wetland. Humans a mere fleck within nature’s tangled brush. The Norfolk Broads had never seemed so poetic.
Various exhibitions beckoned and two of his works ended up at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). It’s said that landscape painter Benjamin Williams Leader (1831-1923) was so enthralled that he changed his approach upon seeing them. Before long, the American critics took note and his success was solidified.
Today, Heffner totters on the edge of obscurity, lost to the record books and dusty archives of Victorian magazines. He’s rarely discussed when considering the evolution of 19th-century British landscape art, but also overlooked in Germany. His greatest legacy was capturing the quiet beauty that radiates between transient moments. Perhaps it took a German to figure that out.
Paris, Vienna, Munich, Berlin and London, among others.
British Gallery, Royal Collection Trust, National Gallery of Victoria, National Museum Wales, Ferens Art Gallery, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Touchstones Rochdale, Neue Pinakothek in Munich, National Art Gallery of N.S.W., V&A, Pinakothek at Munich, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
Born in Würzburg, Bavaria. Birth name Johann Karl Lukas Heffner.
Studied music in Munich.
Trained under Adolf Stademann and Adolf Heinrich Lier.
Debuted at the Royal Academy, London, with ‘Cattle In The Marshes’.
Spent many winters in Rome until 1888.
Shown at Maclean’s Gallery, Haymarket.
“At the end of the room hangs a skilful work by Herr Conrad Kiesel, an artist with more than ordinary power of painting varieties of texture, and with a more than average appreciation of refinements of colour. We must also call attention to the contributions of Signori Andreotti, Tito Conti, and Campriani, and to a landscape lovely in tones of grey by Herr Karl Heffner.”
Awarded the title of Professor by the Prince Regent of Bavaria.
Shown at an exhibition in Berlin.
‘The Coast of Holland’ sold through Christie’s, London.
Recorded as residing in London.
Glowing review in American publication ‘The Art Collector’.
“When, in 1888, an exhibition of Karl Heffner's pictures was made in the Schulte Gallery in Berlin, the German critics suddenly discovered that the painter, who for eighteen years had been working with honor among strangers, was really an artist. A Bavarian, born in Nuremberg in 1849, and a pupil of Adolph Lier, Heffner, however, owes most of his individual artistic development to the influence of the Frenchmen, particularly to Rousseau, and in a lesser degree to Corot. Painting in Germany, in Italy and in England, he carries with him to every scene of labor a clear-cut personality that impresses itself upon his work. The fact that he began life as a musician serves to explain a certain poetic quality which invests his work even in its closest devotion to details, and which softens and mellows the facts under his brush into a harmonious unity unique of its kind.
Heffner first found favor in England, among whose collectors his pictures continue to be actively competed for and highly prized. Reproductions of some of the more important have contributed to spread his popularity, and special exhibitions made for him by Wallis & Sons in London have aided in the service. At the International Exhibition at Munich in 1883, a separate department, called the Heffner section, was filled with his pictures, most of them loaned by English collectors; but in the face of his tangible successes in England he made no special effort to conquer his own country until induced to do so by the Berlin display of last year. In this country he remains almost altogether unknown. It is an item to be chronicled, therefore, that Mr. S. P. Avery, Jr., now exhibits a frameful of extremely spirited and brilliant little sketches by him, which will, it is to be hoped, only prelude his introduction to American collectors in more important and commanding shape.”
Shown at the French Gallery, Pall Mall.
Three British views shown at the annual exhibition in Munich’s Glass Palace.
Shown at the Whitechapel Fine Art Exhibition.
Recorded as living in Florence.
Works donated to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).
“By the bequest of the late Mr. John Hill, of Streatham, the Museum collection has been enriched by three landscape pictures and a number of framed sketches in oil by Karl Heffner, a landscape by the late Vicat Cole, R.A., and a watercolour by H. S. Marks, R.A.”
Travelled to Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Died in Berlin.