The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Franz-Seraph von Lenbach, 1836-1904

Nationality: German
Date of Birth: 1836.12.13
Place of Birth: Schrobenhausen
Date of Death: 1904.05.06
Place of Death: Munich


Professor Franz-Seraph Ritter von Lenbach, a historical and portrait painter, was the son of a master builder, and the younger brother of the painter Karl August Lenbach (1828-47). He married twice and had three daughters, Marion, Erica and Gabriele. His daughters and his second wife, Charlotte (Lolo) Freiin von Hornstein (1861-1941), appear as models in many of his paintings.


Lenbach trained as a builder before entering the sculpture studio of Anselm Sickinger in Munich in 1851. Through the painter Johann Baptist Hofner he began to paint en plein-air. He studied at the Polytechnische Schule in Augsburg, in the Munich studio of the portrait painter Albert Gräfle and at the Akademie in Munich.

From 1860 to 1862 Lenbach taught at the Kunstschule in Weimar. In 1863 he went to Rome to copy old master paintings for Adolph Friedrich Graf von Schack. There he met Anselm Feuerbach, Hans von Marées and Arnold Böcklin. In Florence in 1865 he met the connoisseur Karl Eduard Baron von Liphart and painted portraits, including Ludwig I, King of Bavaria (1866; Wittelsbacher Ausgleichesfond, Munich). In 1867 he was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, in 1869 a gold medal in Munich and the same in Vienna in 1882.

It was in Vienna that Lenbach established himself as a successful portrait painter, painting figures such as Richard Wagner (1872; Richard Wagner Museum, Bayreuth) and Emperor Francis Joseph I (1873; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Later in Munich he painted a large number of portraits of Otto Fürst Bismarck. He also painted the Emperor William I and his family, Field Marshal Helmut Graf Moltke and Pope Leo XIII.

Lenbach was a member of the Academy in Berlin from 1883 and of the Academy in Anvers from 1891. He was on the jury of the 3rd Internationale Kunst-Austellung, Munich, 1888 at which JW was awarded a second class gold medal, which he refused as a second class honour. Lenbach supported JW, describing him as one of the six fundamental artists ('Elementor-Künstler') in the world (#05215). Both Lenbach and JW exhibited at 2nd Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia,Venice, 1897 (#05936). In 1898 Lenbach was among those invited to exhibit with the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, of which JW was President (#02291). Lenbach also exhibited in Britain at the Royal Scottish Academy and at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.


Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1880; Von Baranow, Sonja, 'Franz von Lenbach', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 01 December 2003).