Romanian-born illustrator and artist Joseph Franz Von Goez earnt himself the nickname ‘the German Hogarth’ for his caricatures from 18th-century Germany.
Von Goez’s characterful, skilfully executed illustrations saw his works copied and distributed across Europe. He is also credited with having supposedly published the first graphic novel.
Von Goez’s professional career began as a lawyer working in Vienna. However, in 1779 he undertook a drastic change, deciding to pursue a career in the arts. He worked for a time as a portrait painter before moving to Munich in Germany to expand his horizons.
Soon after, Von Goez had written and produced a play based on the dramatic ballad ‘Lenardo und Blandine’ by Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794). Such was the success of this dramatisation that Von Goez decided to turn his artistic hand to develop an illustrated version of the story. Thus, the first graphic novel was published.
Von Goez’s treats each dramatic rise and fall of the story with carefully devised illustrations which effectively communicate the characters’ thoughts and emotions. Accompanied only by short subtitles of text, the visual images are themselves the vehicle driving the story onwards.
The lovers gesticulate in dramatic fashion their feelings of passion to each other, arms raised in grief at the dawning sun, for their time together must come to an end. The expressions of anger etched onto the faces of Blandine’s jealous fiancé and her father, the king, are menacing. Blandine’s grief at the murder of her lover by these two men is presented in a melodramatic fashion, her hair loose, her expression wild, her arms twisted strangely. One does not need to read the text to get a clear understanding of the themes and twists within the narrative.
Von Goez continued to publish further illustrations, living and working for the rest of his life in Germany. Alongside his more dramatic works are dignified etchings of important public figures, such as Pope Pius VI and Gustav III, King of Sweden.
Popular, too, were his works of social commentary and satire. Such a focus was popular in the 18th century, the Enlightenment bringing to attention the social structures which ruled the world and people’s place within them. In Britain, William Hogarth (1697-1764) had led the way for social satire with his works depicting all aspects of society, and the moralities involved, in the early 18th century. By Von Goez’s time, such works were popular across Europe.
‘Exercises in the imagination of different Characters and Human Forms’ took a curious look at the potential ‘types’ of people living within Germany based on his own experiences. Each caricature represents a ‘group’ of people. Each is depicted with the same character and liveliness as in Von Goez’s other works. The librarian is studious, bespectacled and surrounded by piles of books. The flamboyant gentleman is a cockatrice of foppery and flair. His pose is dramatic, his hair a curled pomade, and his expression is savvy and fun.
That this work was reproduced in Paris by the etcher Robert Brichet (active 1775-1790) suggests that Von Goez’s popularity had spread further across Europe. Indeed, his works of social satire earnt him the nickname ‘the German Hogarth.’
Today, it is fascinating to see editions of Von Goez’s works that remain. They provide a curious window through which to peek at the interests and enjoyments of 18th-century Germany.
Born in Sibiu, Romania.
Lived and worked in Munich, Germany.
Lived and worked in Munich, Germany.
‘Lenardo und Blandine’ published.
‘Exercises in the imagination of different Characters and Human Forms’ published.
Lived and worked in Regensburg, Germany.
Died in Regensburg, Germany.