(Dresden 1850 – 1894/1906 ?)
Signed and dated upper right HB.VERCK./ 1881
Oil on panel
56 x 45.5 cm (22 x 18 inches)
Private collection, Germany.
Although few details are known about the life of the artist Heinrich Bürck, there are several records noting his training under esteemed artists in Dresden, Berlin and Antwerp. In his hometown of Dresden Bürck took up his studies under the history painter Theodor Grosse (1829-1891) at the Academy of Fine Arts, then moved on to study under the Belgian artist Wilhelm Pauwels (1830-1904) in Antwerp. Under Pauwels the artist undoubtedly studied the Flemish masters, and the decadent green velvet cloak in the current picture recalls the sumptuous fabrics depicted by the likes of Jan Gossaert and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bürck then returned to Germany to study under the realist painter Karl Gussow (1843-1907) in Berlin, a teacher who evidently refined his student’s excellent handling of paint and delicate brushwork. Bürck’s skills earned him a stipend to travel Italy from 1875 to 1878, and his return to Berlin thereafter marked the end of his educational tour. Bürck took up the post of assistant professor of painting at the Berlin Academy until 1883, and archives note his participation in the Great Berlin Art Exhibtion of 1893.
The dramatic Valkyrie is a wonderful example of Heinrich Bürck’s training as a history painter, while also drawing from popular themes from the 19th century. The subject of the Valkyrie is inseparable from Richard Wagner’s popular opera Die Walkürie, which premiered at the National Theatre Munich in 1870 to instant acclaim. Originating from Norse mythology, the Valkyrie were female warriors who served the god Odin by determining which of the fallen soldiers on a battlefield were worthy of a blissful eternity in Valhalla. As a woman who had the power to decide the fate of man, the Valkyrie lends herself well to the trope of the femme fatale, the sensual subject favored by the Pre-Raphaelites. The subject’s windswept, wild red hair relates to the seductive subjects portrayed by Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). The Victorian collective celebrated feminine beauty in their paintings, but there was always an underlying warning against the entrapment that follows the pursuit of a seductive woman. In line with the Pre-Raphaelites, Bürck is exploring an historic and mythological subject while celebrating beauty for its own sake, however Valkyrie does not suggest a stance of judgement on female virtue.