Karl Friedrich Lessing (born 15 February 1808 in Breslau, died June 5, 1880 in Karlsruhe) was a German historical and landscape painter. His themes mainly depicted were castle ruins, forgotten cemeteries, rugged rock formations, which he inhabited with figures of monks, knights and thieves.
His father, Carl Friedrich Lessing der Ältere (1778-1848), was a lawyer in Breslau, from 1809 he was chancellor of the court of independent Polish-Wartenberg and nephew of the writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. His mother Clementine b. Schwarz (1783-1821) was the daughter of the government chancellor of Prince Hatzfeldt in Trachenberg. His brother Christian Friedrich (1809-1862) became a physician and botanist. His sister Franziska Maria (1818-1901), called Fanny, was married to the painter Emil Ebers. The future painter lived his childhood in the idyllic town of Polish-Wartenberg (from 1888: Groß-Wartenberg) and discovered the love of nature by walking through the beautiful landscape with its huge forests.
After a two-year course at the Catholic Gymnasium in Breslau, where his talent for drawing was discovered, Lessing went to Berlin at the age of 14 and studied the construction academy at the Bauakademie, headed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. In 1823 he decided to become a painter without the father’s consent. A decisive role played his journey to Rügen, which stimulated his imagination. He studied for three years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. In 1826, he and his friend Wilhelm von Schadow went to the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he became the co-founder of the Düsseldorf School of Painting. His first success was already in 1825 with the image of a cemetery with dead bodies and ruins in the snow, which was shown at the Berlin art exhibition this year, attracted great attention and achieved a high price. The success reconciled the father with the painter’s career of the son.
In the first period of his activity, Lessing painted melancholy landscapes in the succession of Caspar David Friedrich: the motifs were ruined castles, forgotten churchyards, jagged rock parts, which he populated with figures of monks, knights, robbers, gypsies, Other motifs came from the poetry (Lenore, 1832, bought by the King Frederick William IV), or from the legendary world, (Mouring King’s Parade, 1828, now in the Hermitage.) This style found many imitators out. Around this time, Schadow took him to the historic painting, and he commissioned him to paint paintings by Count von Spee, who wanted to decorate the garden of his castle near Düsseldorf with a cycle of frescoes on Friedrich Barbarossa’s life. Lessing created the battle at Iconium, but soon discovered that the wall painting did not appeal to him, leaving the rest of the work Hermann Plüddemann, another artist from the Düsseldorf school. In 1846 Lessing received the offer to become director of the Städel Art Institute in Frankfurt am Main. He rejected this offer. However, in the summer of 1858 he accepted the appointment as director of the Grand Ducal Bath Gallery in Karlsruhe.
From 1836 to 1867 Lessing painted only historical scenes.
In the summer of this year Lessing went as director to the art gallery in Karlsruhe. There he began to paint landscapes again, but also continued his series of great historical paintings, which he finally concluded in 1867 with the image of Luther’s Disputation with Eck at the Pleißenburg in Leipzig.
In 1867 Lessing received the appointment to return to Duesseldorf as Director of the Academy, but he refused, and stayed in Karlsruhe until his life. In the course of the years, he received many honors. As early as 1832, he was appointed a member of the Berlin Academy, and in the fortieth year he received the title of professor from King Frederick William IV and, as one of the first artists, the peace class of the order Pour le Mérite He also received other German and foreign medals and medals and became an honorary member of numerous German and foreign academies and artists’ associations. In his last years of life, he worked as a chairman in two artists’ workshops in Düsseldorf (Malkasten) and Karlsruhe.
Carl Friedrich Lessing had been married to Ida Heuser (1817-1880), daughter of the Protestant merchant Heinrich Daniel Theodor Heuser (1767-1848) from Gummersbach near Cologne, who died a few months before him. Ida Heuser had at least five siblings, including the painters Louise Wüste, Adeline Jaeger and Alwine Schroedter. The couple had several children, including the sculptor Otto Lessing (Düsseldorf 1846-1912 Berlin), the painters Heinrich Lessing (1856-1930) and Konrad Lessing (1852-1916) and the daughter Bertha Lessing (1844-1914 in Berlin), the The royal-Saxon actor Karl Koberstein – the parents of the painter Hans Koberstein (died 1945 in Berlin). In the last few years, Lessing was unable to work after several strokes, a last stroke caused a painful end to his life. The tombstone, adorned with a grave monument designed by Otto Lessing, was embellished around 1956 at the Karlsruhe main cemetery.
As mentioned above, Lessing’s oeuvre is divided into two groups: the historical painting, which has been described by some critics as a trend painting, and landscape painting. The vast historical paintings may not show any sublime, as is the case with Jacques-Louis David, but are characterized by good artistic craftsmanship, individualization of the depicted figures and historical loyalty. He was constantly working on his perfection, leaving a large number of portfolios of studies of nature and historical sketches in which he was indulging. In the painting of Late-Romanticism, as the successor to Caspar David Friedrich, he was a leading figure among his contemporaries and exercised a very comprehensive influence on the development of the Düsseldorf School of Painting. He stands on the threshold between idealism and realism: his romantic and poetic conception of form has been combined with a thorough study of nature. None of the contemporaries has portrayed the German forest and the wild rocky regions of the Harz and the Eifel so poetically and at the same time as natural. Lessing was also known to and loved by the general public through countless reproductions in the early Wilhelminian period magazines – overland and sea, gardening, etc.
Almost all historical paintings are now in state collections (2005). Lessing’s landscape paintings now achieve prices between 2000 and 10,000 euros.