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My great-grandfather, Karl, was a Master Painter and Gilder in Hof, Germany. Before he founded his own workshop, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Before he went to the Academy, he attended trade school. Before he began at the trade school, he served as an apprentice in his father Johannes’s painting and gilding workshop. And before that, he learned how to draw.

My father gave me a portfolio of Karl’s work years ago. Here’s a look at the art my great-grandfather drew between about 1885 and 1895, just before he headed off to trade school in Munich. Karl was born in Weiden, Germany in 1875. Happily, he signed and dated most of his work.

This little painting has no date, but looks like an early attempt at a narrative drawing. Notice that he’s trying to draw portions of the buildings in perspective without quite understanding how perspective works, and that he makes a stab at painting in watercolor, which he then abandons. Yet he signs the work, so despite his struggles, he considers it finished.

These two pencil drawings are from a series of undated animals sketches in a notebook. He seems to be practicing, and draws a series of five animals.

The final animal portrait is signed.

At age 12, Karl starts learning anatomy. Now we have a signature with a date.

Here are two portraits by a boy who’s trying to put it all together.

At 13, he’s onto the Greeks. At this age, he might have started his apprenticeship in his father’s workshop. Is he copying these from drawings? It looks like it. In his apprenticeship, he begins to learn every aspect of drawing, painting, sculpture and gilding required to eventually join the guild of Master Painters and Gilders, which will allow him to establish his own workshop.

Now we’re jumping two years down the line, to 1890, when Karl is 15. Unfortunately, we don’t have much documentation about what happened when, so I’ve tried to piece a time line together with my father’s and brother’s help and based on a biography of Karl’s younger brother Leo, also a decorative painter and gilder.

Most likely, he’s still in his apprenticeship, and look at his progress! What a huge difference. He’s learned shading, modeling, creating dimension and beautiful pencil work. As one of seven sons, he was possibly working alongside his younger brother Eduard in learning his craft. Girls were not taught these skills at the time, so his four sisters were learning traditional women’s crafts, such as embroidery.

Karl is also learning how to draw expressively. The woman’s hair in the drawing below is beautifully detailed and fluid. However, the face seems flat, and makes me think that he’s still copying the work of other artists, not working from life. This is speculation, but the angel wings on her back make me a little suspicious.

After his apprenticeship, it’s time for Karl to head off to Munich at age 17 to attend the first course for decorative art at the municipal trade school, a 2-year program.

Around this time, Karl changes his signature, and, much to my annoyance, leaves out the dates. Is this a result of starting at school? I’m not sure what’s happened, but his drawings begin to evolve. Now it seems as though a live model may be the subject, although he’s still much more interested in women’s hairstyles than their faces.

And here we are, a portrait of a little girl. Karl has learned how to breathe life into his work. Based on the natural pose, the simple design and the lack of extraneous detail, this work is believable as a portrait of a real person instead of an archetype. Although the eyes seem disproportionately large, this beautiful portrait is drawn far more realistically and simply than his earlier work.

Age 20, Karl begins his mandatory 2-year military service, and upon completion, returns to the trade school for the four-year second course of decorative art study. At 26, he begins a three-year study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, completing his education around 1905 or so, at the age of 30.

I’ll be posting the beautiful anatomy studies and other work he completed after he fulfilled his military duties in a future post. But let’s add things up… that’s 12 years of study in order to sit for the exam that will admit him to the guild as a Master Painter and Gilder! Bear in mind, he could fail the exam. Now that’s learning a craft!

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