Sunday, February 10, 2013

Goethe and America

I have started reading Ernst Beutler's essay "Von der Ilm zum Susquehanna: Goethe und Amerika in ihren Wechselbeziehungen." Susquehanna is a river in the Northeast, where Coleridge contemplated locating a utopian colony of Pantisocrats. As I prepare for the paper I will be presenting in September, on the 18th-century sources of utopian thinking, I am trying to keep Goethe in the picture.

By the way, the website is now up for the conference: "Culture Shock, Utopian Dreams, Hard Realities."

The painting above, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775, was executed by John Trumbull ten years after the event. Goethe, according to Beutler, saw the painting in Stuttgart in 1797, and "thus got an idea of contemporary American painting." He wrote to Schiller about the work, in which he saw combined "the excellences of the artist and the errors of the dilettante." Trumbull had finished the painting in London, but found there no engraver to reproduce it; thus, he brought it to the Messe in Frankfurt and gave it to a dealer named Poggi, who found an engraver in Stuttgart. According to Beutler, on his return from Paris Trumbull picked up the original and the engraving, with which he was immensely pleased. President George Washington was the leading "subscriber" to receive a copy. Years later, in an essay in Kunst und Altertum, concerning battle paintings, Goethe returned to a discussion of Trumbull's painting.

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