Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky

By Moshe Barasch | Go to book overview

14
Adolf Hildebrand

The significance of vision in general, and of reflection on what was called “pure vision” in particular, is amply manifested in Fiedler's thought. Fiedler, as we have seen, was also aware of the wide inner range of seeing; he knew very well that there are different stages in the visual process, between, say, perceiving an everyday object and what he called “pure seeing.” Do we indeed perceive with the same kind of vision an object that is present in front of us and the not clearly defined image of “pure seeing”? He did not suggest an answer. Hildebrand took over where Fiedler left off.

In the late nineteenth century Adolf Hildebrand (1847–1927) was already well known as one of Germany's esteemed sculptors. The son of a liberal professor of economics at Marburg (who took an active part in the revolution of 1848, and consequently had to flee to Switzerland), Adolf Hildebrand grew up in a highly intellectual milieu, but without any contact with practicing artists. His decision to turn to sculpture was, therefore, not taken lightly. After studying at the Academy of Munich, he went to Rome, and it was there that he met the painter Hans von Marees and his friend, the critic Conrad Fiedler. After spending two decades in Italy, mostly in Florence, he returned to Germany in the last years of the nineteenth century, and became part of the art movement.

During his Italian period Hildebrand was profoundly concerned with problems of art theory. He lived and worked in close connection with Marees and Fiedler, and it was mainly the latter's influence and stimulus that shaped his intellectual personality.

During this time, and in constant interaction with his friends, mainly Fiedler, Hildebrand composed his theoretical treatise, Das Problem der Form in den bildenden Künsten (The Problem of Form in the Visual Arts).1 When this short book appeared in 1893, it almost immediately found a surprisingly wide and lively response. By 1914, a mere twenty-one years later, it had already gone through nine editions. This is surprising since the style and presentation are often rather dry, and the text makes for heavy reading.

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