HEINRICH VON ZÜGEL
(1850 Murrhardt – 1941 Munich)
Moritz, the dog of Manfred von Richthofen (1892-1918)
Signed upper left H Zügel
Oil on canvas
16 ½ x 18 inches
Private collection, Germany.
In this sensitively rendered pet portrait Heinrich von Zügel captures the striking image of the brindle dog belonging to Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. The Red Baron was the deadliest flying ace of World War I, achieving 80 aerial victories over the course of just over two years. At the beginning of 1917 Richthofen chose to paint his fighter plane scarlet, giving rise to his new nickname and the propagandistic identity that would plaster the newspapers and postcards of Germany. The Red Baron died in battle in April of 1918 at just twenty-five years old, survived by his beloved dog Moritz.
The son of a shepherd, Heinrich von Zügel fell in love with animals as a child and went on to depict animals throughout his artistic career, He was a conspicuously talented draftsman from a young age and studied under the important animal painter Anton Braith (1836-1905) at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich. He quickly achieved great renown for his paintings of livestock and domestic animals, including the great gold medal at both the 1883 World Exhibition in Vienna and the 1899 World Exhibition in Paris. Zügel painted incessantly until his death in 1941 at the age of 90. His prolific oeuvre reveals the development of an impressionistic style over time.
The current painting of Moritz the Danish hound is beautifully detailed and realistic, with keen attention paid to the dog’s expression. Zügel brings us eye-to-eye with the dog, forcing us to connect with the animal and consider his face as one would a human’s. The light floods in from the right, illuminating only one side of the dog’s expression and increasing the immediacy of the image, as if we have caught a snapshot of a fleeting moment. The painting is exemplary of Zügel’s bravado as a realistic painter of animals, while it also showcases his beautiful painterly brushstrokes, capturing the texture of the dog’s fur and the wetness in his eyes and on his nose. This portrait of Moritz relates to a drawing by Zügel circa 1882, in which he carefully sketched a study of a dog with clipped ears, again focusing on the animal’s facial expression as well as his physiognomy.