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Friedrich Nietzsche

Max Klinger
Friedrich Nietzsche, c.1904
Bronze with black patina
63.2 × 47.3 × 26.5 cm
Gift of the Robert Tanenbaum Family Trust, Toronto, 1999

Max Klinger's larger than life, posthumous bust of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is one of the few existing portraits of this great nineteenth-century German thinker. Author of The Birth of Tragedy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche was incapacitated from 1889 until his death in 1900. His sister ordered a death mask by Carl Stoeving, with the intention of commissioning a bust for the Nietzsche-Archiv, which she established that same year. By the autumn of 1901, Klinger was already in possession of Nietzsche's death mask.

Klinger had been powerfully influenced by Nietzsche, notably in his etching cycle, Death, the first part of which appeared in 1889. He produced a somewhat sketchy head of Nietzsche in plaster in 1901 (known through a later, posthumous cast) and another more detailed one (now lost and said to have been in bronze, but possibly only in painted plaster). The final marble bust for the Nietzsche-Archiv was conceived on a monumental scale. The artist retained a smaller version for himself, first exhibited in 1903 at the Berlin Winter Secession.

It was this smaller marble bust that served as the model for three bronze casts made in 1904 at Klinger's habitual foundry, H. Gladenbeck & Sohn, in Berlin. One of these bronzes, purchased in 1907 by the Stadtische Galerie in Frankfurt, had been shown at the Leipzig Kunstvereim in 1904. Another is in the Stadtischen Museum in Wiesbaden, and the third bas been donated to the National Gallery of Canada.

This remarkable portrait is a major contribution to the Gallery's European collection. It is on a substantially larger scale than Gaudier-Brzeska's Cubist Horace Brodzky (1913) or Matisse's even more abstract Henriette II (Grosse tête) (1927). Alongside Otto Greiner's painting Prometheus (1909), a gift of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, it is one of the few German works of this period in the collection.