Poppy flowers with a Capsule and Leaves
  • Philipp Otto Runge
  • Wolgast 1777 - 1810 Hamburg
  • Poppy flowers with a Capsule and Leaves
  • White silhouette, on an old mount of light blue board
  • 254 × 129 mm
Heinrich Johann Herterich, Hamburg (1772-1852)
Otto Speckter, Hamburg (1807-1871)
The Speckter family, near Hamburg (until 2014)

Philipp Otto Runge was the ninth of eleven children born to a shipowner, whose line of work he was meant to follow. Towards that end, the young Runge began a vocational apprenticeship in 1795 in Hamburg, where he soon made a connection with his brother Daniel’s circle of friends, which included the poets Matthias Claudius and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock as well as the art collector Johannes M. Speckter. These men encouraged Philipp to take drawings lessons from Heinrich Herterich and, eventually, to study at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Jens Juel and Nicolai Abildgaard were his instructors there. In 1801, Runge continued his studies with Anton Graff at the Art Academy in Dresden, where he made contact with Caspar David Friedrich and other Romantics. He married Pauline Bassenge and in 1804 moved with her back to Hamburg, where he died of tuberculosis at far too young an age in 1810. During his short lifetime, Runge nevertheless created a fully unique oeuvre.

Above all, Runge’s silhouettes count among the particular treasures of German Romantic art. Already in his early years, the artist developed a special skill in handling so-called silhouettes. Three-fourths of these works depict floral motives, and Runge sharpened his eye in his images to the respective characteristics and botanical subtleties of individual species. Runge considered nature studies as a prerequisite for his envisaged goal of reviving landscape painting; simultaneously, however, each plant embodied for him the absolute beauty of divine creation.

The delicate poppy, with its large, filigree petals and incredibly delicate stalk, especially captivated Philipp Otto Runge. In several silhouettes, he attempted to bring expression to the fleeting aura of each flower, even though the abstraction of this technique concurrently handicapped his artistic intention. The plant shown here bears beside two blossoming flowers an already ripe capsule, which appears to bend the stem with its weight. Two leaves at the bottom of the stalk complete the botanical image.