Werner Tübke – a German "Painter Prince"

Jul 28, 2009

Tübkes´s monumental work of art "Frühbürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland" (Early Bourgeois Revolution Germany) in the Panoramamuseum, Bad Frankenhausen Enlarge image Tübkes´s monumental work of art "Frühbürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland" (Early Bourgeois Revolution Germany) in the Panoramamuseum, Bad Frankenhausen (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Werner Tübke is one of Germany’s most significant painters and graphic artists. He is best known for his monumental panorama in Bad Frankenhausen, which depicts the Peasants’ War of the 16th century. On 30 July, he would have turned 80. 

Tübke’s painting style once led the critic Eduard Beaucamp to call him the "great anachronist"; his departure from both the artistic trends of his time and the socialist realism predominant in East Germany was apparent. Tübke turned to traditional German and Italian artists; his role models included Hans Holbein the Elder and the Younger, as well as Albrecht Dürer. His paintings were characterized by manneristic contortions and figures dressed in old-fashioned garb. His style can thus be best described as magic realism with surreal elements. 

Tübke is painting "Das Haus am Meer" (The house by the sea) in his studio in Leipzig Enlarge image Tübke is painting "Das Haus am Meer" (The house by the sea) in his studio in Leipzig (© picture-alliance / ZB) He never considered himself a modern artist, but rather executed his ideas according to his own artistic conceptions, even if the work was commissioned by the ruling Socialist Unity Party of East Germany. Because he was also willing to accept such commissions, some accused him of being a state artist. Others, however, praised him as a critic of the system for his non-conformist stance. He himself refused to be pigeonholed in either category, for his artistic self-conception fit neither of these extremes. 

Along with Bernhard Heisig and Wolfgang Mattheuer, he was one of the founders and most important representatives of the Leipzig School, which had a significant influence on an entire generation of painters. Their realistic style of painting combined technical and artistic skill with social analysis and made Leipzig the focus of German painting at the time. 

"Working class and intelligence" by Werner Tübke in the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig Enlarge image "Working class and intelligence" by Werner Tübke in the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Tübke was born on 30 July 1929 in Schönebeck on the Elbe. His artistic talent was recognized early on, and he began taking private drawing lessons at the age of 10. In 1946 he began a painter’s apprenticeship and attended the Technical School for German Crafts in Magdeburg. In 1947, following his Abitur (higher education entrance qualification), Tübke studied at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig (HGB) before transferring in 1950 to the University of Greifswald to study art education and psychology. He returned to Leipzig, working as an assistant professor and finally as an independent artist. Although he was dismissed in 1957 for political reasons, he returned to the HGB in 1962, becoming a professor in 1972 and rector the following year. He gave up this position in 1976 to devote himself to the monumental painting for the Bad Frankenhausen Panorama Museum. 

This commissioned work for the GDR Ministry of Culture, entitled "Early Bourgeois Revolution Germany" (1976 to 1987), which recalled the German Peasants’ War of 1525, was an international success. Here again, he did not surrender his artistic freedom, but rather carried out the work according to his artistic and historical notions. 

The GDR Academy of Arts accepted him as a member in 1983. In 1989, he became Vice President of the Association of Visual Artists of the GDR. 

His work covers a broad spectrum, from historical and socio-political topics to religious motives, portraits and self-portraits. Tübke also did paintings of individual figures, including bizarre harlequins and jesters, but also beach themes and Italian motifs, such as featured in the painting "Death in Venice", which shows the influence of his travels. In 1971 Tübke traveled to Milan for the first time for his first solo exhibition outside Germany, which gained him international renown. Following the fall of the Wall, between 1990 and 1993, he created the entire stage set for Carl-Maria von Weber’s opera "Der Freischütz", which was staged anew by Gian-Carlo del Monaco in Bonn. Subsequently, he completed his last major commission, the winged altarpiece for the St. Salvatoris Church in Clausthal-Zellerfeld (1993-1996). Werner Tübke died in Leipzig on 27 May 2004.  

To mark his 80th birthday, several exhibitions will pay tribute to his oeuvre, which is comprised of drawings, paintings, prints and aquarelles. His work has been honored with numerous awards and art prizes. In 1985, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Leipzig. Tübke’s works can be found not only in many museums in Europe, but also in the United States and Australia. 

© Federal Foreign Office

Werner Tübke

self-portrait of painter Werner Tübke at the entrance of the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig

Werner Tübke Exhibitions

A number of institutions are mounting Werner Tübke retrospectives in honor of what would have been his 80th Birthday. 

Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig

Panorama Museum, Bad Frankenhausen

Art Forum of the Berliner Volksbank

Freedom Without Walls: 1989-2009

Freedom Without Walls © German Embassy Washington

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the beginning of a new era in history. It was the end of the cold war, the beginning of a fully united Europe and proof that peaceful change is possible, even in the moments when it seems most unlikely.