• The Cello in Art (10) – Otto Piltz

Here’s an artist completely new to me.  Otto Piltz (1846-1910) was born in Thüringen in central Germany and lived at various times in Weimar and Munich.  Some of his work is rather sentimental in tone and subject matter, but he was evidently interested in musical topics.  He spent time during 1888-98 at his sister’s house in Sömmerda in rural Thüringen where there was a music school.  Some of his depictions of the students rehearsing in attics and quiet corners – familiar to anyone who’s been at a full-time or summer music school! – are reproduced below.  There’s also a painting of a church choir rehearsal.

Quintet is the best-known of these works, although it currently languishes in the vaults of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  Dated between 1888 and the early 1890s, it has various titles, including Quintette der Gehilfen des Stadtpfiefers (there is a trombone hanging on the rear wall).  The poor domestic interior is typical of such group pictures and belongs to the same European genre that gave rise to the much more visceral The Potato Eaters, which Van Gogh painted a few years earlier.

In Piltz’s painting, the five young musicians are gathered in time-honoured fashion around a table on which lie their individual parts (some propped up).  They seem fairly well dressed.  The near violinist (who perhaps looks older than the others) is sitting on a slatted wooden bench and there is a bed behind the cellist.  The lamp is not lit, so they are reliant on the dim light coming from the deeply recessed window.  It’s not a standard string quintet line-up (usually 2 violins, 2 violas and cello or 2 violins, viola and 2 cellos).  The presence of the double-bass implies activities connected with civic occasions rather than concert repertoire.  It’s not possible to be certain if there are 3 violins or 2 violins and viola because of the gloom.  The players, however, look rather content.  They certainly look more lively, musically, than the cellists in the near-contemporaneous pictures by Eakins and Hammershoi that I posted 11 days ago.

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