German Artists and Artisans

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Introduction [edit | edit source]

    The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts is noted for its works by Monet, Renoir, Vermeyen, and other famous artists.  The Institute also houses a remarkable research library that contains many publications of interest to family history researchers who are tracing families of artists and artisans.  The Clark Art Institute has a wide range of general biographical dictionaries of artists as well as many publications relating to the study of specific artisans.1

By searching their online digital collection you may view many portraits painted by master painters such as Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer and others.  You may search for German notables such as Philipp Melanchthon, or Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, or more recent portraits such as the one of opera star Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient and be able to view their images. 

Biographical Dictionaries of Artists[edit | edit source]

     Biographical dictionaries of artists provide basic data about an artist.  They include names and/or pseudonyms; birth and death dates and places; education; the artists' works, awards, exhibitions; and they may provide bibliographic citations to published and unpublished source material. An artist would describe a biographical dictionary in a less ordinary way.  Art historian Merete Bodelsen of Denmark describes a dictionary of artists in this way:

"When the weaver sets up his loom, he begins with the warp, the long empty, unconnected strands.  Into these he weaves the weft, moving across them, binding them together, and creating the pattern.  The Dictionary of Artists provides the art historian with his warp in the shape of its innumerable biographies, all of them subjected to the relentless discipline of the alphabet, and pursuing their invariable course in the dimension of time, from birth to death. Yet all these parallel threads of life which fill the pages of the dictionary tempt the student on to trace another and larger connection, not of artists but of art itself, connecting thread with thread and color with color till at last the pattern appears." 2

Thieme-Becker[edit | edit source]

     Merete Bodelsen was describing the Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Vols 1-37 by Dr. Ulrich Thieme and Dr. Felix Becker.  Art historians refer to it simple as Thieme-Becker.  The first volumes were published in Leipzig by Wilhelm Engelmann and in 1911 the work passed to the publishing house of E. A. Seemann. Thieme and Becker began their dictionary of artists in 1907.  "Its original aim was . . . to assemble all artists from Classical Antiquity till the present time in one enormous reference work . . . patiently gleaned from  European archives.3  It contains over 148,000 bibliographies, and it is particularly known because of the attention it gives to relatively unknown artisans, such as artist Friedrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Albert.4   A translation of his entry in Thieme-Becker follows:

"Albert, Friedrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Theodor, landscape painter and lithographer, born 28 June 1822 in Magdeburg, student of the  royal Academy in Berlin 1841-1846 where he turned to landscape painting.  Fropm 1853 to 1855 he took a study trip to Rügen, to the Rhine, and to the Taunus Baths.  From 1856 he worked independently as a water-colorist and above all as a lithographer with a speciality in multi-colored lithography.  Lithograph Die laendlichen Wohnsitze, Schloesser, etc. in der preuss. Monarchie, [The Country Estates, Castles, etc., in the Prussian Monarchy], published by Alexander Kuncker in Berlin.  His original water colors are scattered in private ownership.  Source: Meyer, Künstlerlexikon."

Some of the volumes of Thieme-Becker are online. 

Volume 1  Aa to Antonio de Miraguel

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Volume 5

Volume 6 Carlini to Cioci

Volume 14 Giddens to Gress

1 The Clark Art Institute's catalog is available here.

2 "Foreign Artists in Denmark" in Festschrift Hans Vollmer, pp. 45-46.

3  Festschrift Hans Vollmer.

4  A more complete description of the publication of Thieme-Becker can be found at this website.


"German Artists & Artisans. A Researcher's Guide," in German Genealogical Digest Vol. 17 No. 3 (Fall 2001). pp. 70-87.