King of the Animals. Wilhelm Kuhnert and the Image of Africa

25 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019

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Schirn Kunsthalle

Hesse, Germany

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More than any other painter of his time, Wilhelm Kuhnert shaped the notion of Africa. Between 1891 and 1912 he was one of the first Euro­pean artists to travel through the German colonies of East Africa, which were still largely unex­plored at the time. During these jour­neys, his sketches of the animal and plant world were often created under diffi­cult condi­tions. These served as the basis for his monu­mental paint­ings, which he later created in his Berlin studio and exhib­ited inter­na­tion­ally with great success. Kuhnert stood out for his almost scien­tific approach: He captured the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the animals and the land­scape in which they lived with great preci­sion. It is not surprising that his animal pictures were published in zoolog­ical books like Brehms Tier­leben (Brehm’s Life of Animals), as wall charts for school class­rooms and on the wrap­pers of Stoll­w­erck choco­late. Although Wilhelm Kuhnert remains one of the most frequently collected acad­emic painters to this day, his work is largely unknown by the broader public. Now, for the first time, the SCHIRN is presenting a compre­hen­sive retro­spec­tive of his life and work. The exhi­bi­tion combines studies and paint­ings from Euro­pean and Amer­ican museums, private collec­tions, and Kuhnert’s estate with numerous prints and commer­cial graphics and publi­ca­tions by the artist. Here, Kuhnert’s work is seen not only as a mirror of the history of art and natural science, but also against the back­ground of the history of colo­nialism. As such it also makes a contri­bu­tion to the current debate on the handling of Germany’s colo­nial past.

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Wilhelm Kuhnert


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