Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Walter Leistikow, one of the leading Berlin painters of the late 19th century, was born on this day in 1865. Although not a Berliner by birth – he came from the city of Bromberg (today Bydgoszcz in Poland) – it was in Germany´s capital that his artistic career reached its peak. But it was a bumpy ride, too: first, Leistikow was thrown out of the Königliche Akademie der Künste (Royal Arts Academy) for being, in the opinion of Anton von Werner, the academy´s principal, “completely talent-free”. And then, he found a bitter enemy in Kaiser Wilhelm II himself – so displeased was the emperor with Leistikow´s paintings of the Grunewald Forest that he famously pronounced the artist as guilty of “f*** up the whole of Grunewald” for him (Wilhelm II was not a man to beat about the bush when expressing his displeasure with things).
Despite these hurdles, Leistikow became one of the main players on Berlin´s art scene of the late 19th century and on the cusp of the 1900s. In 1898 he became one of the fathers of the Berlin Secession, an arts organisation created as an antidote to the conservative and rather reactionary Verein Berliner Künstler (Berlin Artists Society). Several years later, when his landscape painting was rejected by the said Verein as lacking in artistic quality, Leistikow, together with Harry Graf Kessler, established a famous Deutscher Künstlerbund or the Association of German Artists, aiming to promote all German artists independently of the conservative, national cultural authorities as well as of where the said artists came from.
The fate of Leistikow´s painting rejected by the Verein Berliner Künstler before their planned exhibition was shared by works of another artist whose name is known to all and sundry today: Edvard Munch´s pictures were similarly stamped off as below the par. They were considered to be horrid and grotesque.
In spite of the rejection he experienced, Leistikow continued to produce paintings which enchanted other sorts of audience. And they still do so today. His images of Berlin landscapes, especially lakes, are among the most beautiful reflections of the local sceneries. They definitely are for yours truly here. No other painter recreated the soft, warm beauty of the late afternoon at the Schlachtensee or the Havel as perfectly as Walter Leistikow did. And it is such a heart-breaking thing to know that the man who gave us all those superb images died such a lonesome, dreadful death: Leistikow, suffering an increasingly hefty side-effects of syphilis, shot himself in 1908 in the Hubertus Sanatorium at the Schlachtensee.