Spiess, Heinrich (1832-1875)

Spiess, Heinrich (1832-1875)

Figures of fantasy and the grand scenes of history captured the brush of German artist Heinrich Spiess.

Spiess was the son of engraver August Spiess, and it is probable that his father’s own success inspired in him a desire to pursue a career in the arts. Spiess began his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown of Munich, a prestigious and established institution.

It was upon the recommendation of one of the professors that Spiess found employment under painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1805-1874). Kaulbach was earning for himself a reputation in revitalising the art of mural painting within Germany. These works were carried out with a focus on history and religious, allegorical scenes, presented often with classical inspiration and dramatic, romantic flair. Spiess, alongside teaching Kaulbach’s children drawing, would aid the master in his frescoes.

Indeed, some of Spiess’ most celebrated works are copies of Kaulbach’s. ‘Jacob wrestling with the angel’ won him an award in 1856. This is not to undermine Spiess’ skill, as many say, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and Spiess was not only imitating. He was harnessing his own skill and developing his own style in his learnings from Kaulbach.

Great biblical scenes play out with a glorious harmony of composition, the classical figures posed in dramatic stances emphasising the narrative. Effusive use of colour strikes the bold stroke of drama. These works are befitting of their place, displayed on walls in large proportion.

Along the same vein as his workings with Kaulbach, Spiess was also employed under Moritz von Schwind (1804-1871). Schwind had an affinity for folklore and myth, and Spiess emulated his works in his own drawings. Fantasy beings such as the Rübezahl are depicted with a striking character, with dignity. Spiess would help Schwind with his paintings for Wartburg Castle. Indeed, his work was so similar to the other artist, that many of his works have been confused for Schwind’s.

To develop his understanding of colours, Spiess studied for a while under history painter Philipp von Foltz (1805-1877). After this time, he went into employment with his brother, August Spiess (1841-1923), who had also established for himself an artistic career. The two brothers would produce drawings and illustrations for books, as well as for artist Nikolai Yegorovich Swertschkow’s (1817-1898) glass painting institute. They also executed 22 allegorical frescoes for the Maximilianeum building in Munich.

Spiess work won him the attention of the great German artists of the time, as well as public renown. His works can still be seen at the Maximilianeum.


Born in Munich, Germany.


Won award for ‘Jacob wrestling with the angel.’


Exhibited at the International Art Exhibition, Munich, Germany.


Died in Munich, Germany.

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