By Christian Brinton
Professor Leo Putz is the most popular painter of the younger generation in Germany. Visitors to Munich, the veritable summer art-capital of Europe, are doubtless familiar with the work of that much discussed group known as "Die Scholle," of which Putz is president, but this is the first time he has been presented to the American public.
Imprisoned in a small cabinet in one of the most interesting museums of Europe, the Munich Alte Pinakothek, is a bright faced faun playing merrily upon his flute. He fills the foreground of a typically sylvan landscape dotted with trees and rocks, a smiling patch of sky overhead, and flocks grazing in the distance. The picture, which is by Correggio, one of the most sweetly joyous souls the world has ever known, may, in a sense, be taken as the symbol of modern Bavarian painting. It is, beyond doubt, the same care free little fellow, and others of his kind, who have piped happiness into the hearts of generations of Munich artists. He strayed blithely across the Alps, bringing with him a mellowness that harks back not alone to sunny Italy but to golden Greece, and inspired the rude Teutons with that passionate longing, Sehnsucht, as they themselves call it, for the Southland, which has ever been a characteristic feature of their ternperament. There is, in truth, something fanciful and faunesque to their production, which can be accounted for in no other way. You find the same note alike in the early canvases of the searching and austere Lenbach, the stirring evocations of the Olympian Bocklin, and the sensuous animalism of Franz von Stuck. And not only is this spirit visible in art; it has also colored the social and intellectual life of the Bavarian capital. The Munich Kunsstlerfest, or Artists' Carnival, at times vividly recalls the freedom and frivolity of former days; while upon the diverting pages of Jugend, you will discover a playfulness which, in essence, is but a survival of paganism.
Whatever be its general manifestations, there is always, however, some specific point where such a tendency concentrates itself, and no one familiar with the situation would fail, in this particular connection, to point to the art and personality of Leo Putz. A true son of the South, Putz reveals in abundance the imaginative fertility and coloristic richness which we instinctively associate with those born under benign skies. He is, nevertheless, by no means an Italian, having first seen the light of day, June 18, 1869, at Metan, in the heart of the Tyrol. And yet the breezes wafted over mountain tops did not entirely lose their warmth and fragrance, for the lad seemed from the outset endowed with a special measure of responsive sensibility.
It would be difficult to picture anything more characteristic or quaintly attractive than the childhood surroundings and associations of Leo Putz. The son of a distinguished former burgomaster of Meran, he was brought up in a great, roomy house filled with furniture of the Biedermeier period and flanked by a spacious garden, sunflecked by day and mysterious and shadow haunted at night. His favorite books were fairy tales. He read omnivorously the brothers Grimm and Hans Andersen, but his chief treasure was a big volume of Perrault's "Contes," retold in German by Moritz Hartmann and illustrated after Gustave Dore. His was a veritable make-believe world, watched over by a kindly, clear-headed father, who did not combat the boy's natural inclinations, and a solicitous mother, who added a distinct element of inspiration through playing with taste and spirit selections from Beethoven, Mozart, and kindred composers. Fond though he was of life indoors, he was, nevertheless a wholesome, outdoor lad. He early learned to love and to comprehend nature, and from nature instinctively absorbed that sense of personality, that feeling of some eloquent, living force in things inanimate, which shortly became the key-note of his art.
Like Courbet and Manet, in France, and his own countryman, Leibl, Leo Putz was one of those rare beings predestined to express themselves through the medium of paint. The facts that he began his studies under his stepbrother, Professor Potzelberger, continued them with Professor von Hackl at the Munich Academy, passed a couple of years at Julian's in Paris, and completed his apprenticeship under Professor Paul Hocker, are mere matters of biographical record. Leo Putz was a born artist. He drew and painted from the first with that same spontaneous zest with which a Tyrolese mountaineer cleaves the forest stillness with his clear ringing, melodious yodel. And, like the song of his green capped, barekneed compatriot, the art of Leo Putz is an exuberantly physical expression. It springs straight from the heart and chants the radiant beauty of the world in unabashed brightness of tint and fullness of contour.
His preliminary training over, the young man settled in the Bavarian capital, and, within a brief space, had established connections which proved of the utmost advantage. He would unquestionably have succeeded without help; yet such incidents as the founding of Jugend, the formation of the now famous art society known as Die Scholle, of which he is today president, and the opening of Brakl's Moderne Kunsthandlung were factors which greatly facilitated his climb toward recognition. He sounded a new note in Bavarian art. He came from the Tyrol bringing with him a more delicate and ingratiating appeal than Munich had hitherto encountered. He possessed style and sensibility, qualities notably lacking in the work of his more heavy-handed colleagues. They early dubbed him the "Bavarian Watteau," the "South German Boucher"; yet he was neither. He was simply a gifted, unspoiled Sonntagskind of art, and such he has fortunately remained to this day.
THE FIRST SUCCESS
His first striking success was made with "Vanitas," a composition somewhat in the vein of Franz Stuck, seen at the Secession of 1896. During the ensuing decade, until, indeed, his memorable collective exhibition, which proved the artistic sensation of Germany and Austria throughout the spring and summer of 1906, he moved mainly in the realm of creative fancy. The lad whose initial inspiration dated from the day he opened the big fairy-tale book, with drawings by Dore, lingered as long in that beguiling dream world as he possibly could. He dwelt there, in fact, until he was able completely to dominate the strange nature spirit that haunted his soul. Although, largely for diversion, he still now and then crosses the moss covered entrance to this magic forest, or enters the palace of a Thousand and One Nights, he is, in the main, satisfied with the simpler, though not less significant, aspect of things as they are.
Leo Putz, today, paints the changing procession of the seasons - tender spring in birch wood, the sun splashed stillness of midsummer, and the mellow opulence of autumn. There is little obvious symbolism here. There are no more sinister monsters, no wicked stepmothers in these shimmering canvases. These groves and grass grown glades are peopled by healthy young women. in all the gladness of their fresh, unfatigued beauty. This art, in place of remaining a dainty fairy conte, has gradually become a dazzling hymn to sight and sense. It sings the fullness of life and nature, the eternal fertility of the soil, and the fecundity of the human race. It is pure pantheism in paint.
Yet Leo Putz has more than one string to his esthetic bow. He can be delightfully artificial as well as frankly and fundamentally natural. Certain of his most attractive effects have been achieved by taking a glimpse backward into the engaging elaboration of the Biedermeier, or German crinoline, period, echoes of which were so plentiful about his own home. It was his spirited rendering of certain captivating breakfast scenes in the park, with gracious forms fluttering about the table or chatting under the trees, which won for him the title of the "Teutonic Watteau." The characterization was manifestly more picturesque than precise, for he was here, as elsewhere, an outdoor painter, first and last. He had learned his lesson, not from Watteau of the eighteenth but from Manet of the nineteenth century. He was already a confirmed impressionist with, however, his own broadly coloristic fashion of attacking each fresh problem. And whatever he did, seemed to possess the precious faculty of appealing directly to one's esthetic consciousness. He could carry an ambitious composition to a successful conclusion, or could transcribe little porcelain figurines or bits of still life on table or mantle piece with a curiously fulfilling richness and charm. He had, in fine, become a painter in the essential significance of the term.
THE PAINTER'S PERSONALITY
Professor Putz, for such is his official title, is still a young man with pointed blond beard, frank, boyish smile, and a manner that savors of genuine good-humor and fellowship. During the gray winter months he lives and paints in Munich - to be explicit, in Pettenkofer Strasse, not far from the villa of his friend and patron, Herr Brakl. His summers are enveloped in mystery. He has been seen sketching in Schleissheim Park, and also in the neighborhood of Chiemsee, but no one - that is to say, very few - know precisely where he finds those enticing combinations of wood, water, and luxurious feminity that figure in so many of his compositions. The Munich studio, which is distinctly easier to locate, is situated on the top floor of a fine old private residence, with entrance from the rear. The place is filled with odds and ends, and light - the light which he paints with such zest - floods the entire apartment. It falls with well ordered precision upon model and canvas. It plays tricks with the miniature aquarium and its oddly assorted contents. It glistens upon the variegated plumage of the parrot, and picks out amusing details here. there, and everywhere.
You must make sure to visit this delectable spot in May, when windows are open and birds carol in the nearby tree tops. In the center of the room you will doubtless discover Professor Putz clad in voluminous gray blouse, exultantly green tie, and capacious black slippers. Should it still be sufficiently early, he would assuredly be working, not with irascible preoccupation but in blithe serenity of spirit. He would now wheel briskly about and address a remark to you in Bavarian dialect or Boulevard slang; now considerately ask the model to hold her pose just a moment longer. And when the great bells outside solemnly signaled five, he would look brightly up, say "Schluss!" and drop his brushes for the day. Such is the life of Munich's most popular painter of the younger generation, during his sojourn in the city. Earnest, industrious, and jovial, he radiates happiness with every movement and from the gleaming surface of each canvas that leaves his easel.
The situation in summer merely comprises a change from indoors to the more expansive freedom of sun, sky, and untrammeled nature. You must never disclose the whereabouts of the secluded and sylvan retreat to which you have been suddenly transported. Suffice to say, it is not far distant from one of those lakes that sparkle, like eyelets of the sea, upon the face of the South Bavarian landscape. In a wing, let us say the east, or the west, of a rambling, irregular castle on the edge of a forest, Professor Putz has his congenial quarters. Here he paints, rows upon the lake, reads a bit, and, after a few salubrious months, hies back to town with a score or so of canvases instinct with the feeling of the out-of-doors glimpses of summer subtilized, intensified, harmonized, as only a born painter-poet can conceive them.
It matters little where this idyllic spot may.
Originally published in Cosmopolitan Magazine. March 1914.