Max, Gabriel von

Oil on canvas
50.5 : 38.5 cm
Signed on the upper left corner

Second version of a painting with the same title in the Heinrich von Liebieg Collection

– Friedrich von Boetticher, Malerwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts, 2 volumes, Dresden 1891-1901, vol. I,2, p. 92-98;
– Exh. Cat., Sehen ist Alles. Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus Liberec / Reichenberg, Augsburg Schaetzlerpalais 2007, p. 124-129;
– Exh. Cat., Kunstschätze des Mäzens Heinrich von Liebieg, Frankfurt am Main Museum Giersch 2012, p. 132f.


Gabriel Max was the son of a sculptor. He grew up in Prague and moved via Vienna to Munich where he, together with Hans Makart and Franz Defregger, became one of the master students of the internationally renowned history painter Carl Theodor von Piloty. From the mid-1860s onwards Max created a series of spectacular paintings with which he laid the foundation for his successful career as an artist.

The first of the many popular works that he painted while still enrolled at the art academy was The Christian Martyr (Saint Julia) (Frye Art Museum, Seattle) that was exhibited at the Munich Kunstverein and at the Paris World Exhibition in 1867. Max used this occasion to visit the capital of France and study the art scene there. He was particularly impressed by the Belgian salon painter Alfred Stevens, as Max’s genre paintings between the late 1860s to the mid-1870s testify. Wilted is one of the best-known examples of this phase of Max’s work.

The painting is arranged in a stage-like composition that directs the viewer’s gaze to an opulent bedroom where a young woman sits on the edge of a four-poster bed with velvet curtains. The dim light of the room and the view outside hint that it is early morning. A closer look reveals why the half-undressed female figure has buried her face into her right hand with an air of despair and is holding a loose thread of her undergarment between the fingers of her left hand. Her dress and bodice are lying on a chair next to the crumpled bed, a single glove and a tattered posy of violets lay on the floor to the right and a pair of shoes to the left. They are the relics of a glittering ball night that ended in an erotic climax and also the omen of a sobering awakening: there is little chance that the vanished beau who took the young lady’s virginity only a few hours ago will return. The abandoned woman clearly harbours no illusions, and realizing the loss of her innocence is much worse than her bitter disappointment about false promises of love. He has destroyed her reputation and left her void of any chance of making a respectful marriage match. Through her recklessness, she has lost her social status in a society characterised by a strict set of moral rules.

Gabriel von Max subtly creates an ambivalent mixture of intimacy and distance between the depicted and the viewer. The latter finds themselves in the role of a voyeur and confronted with a situation characterised by emotional and rational uncertainty. Max’s contemporaries may have felt compassion with the young woman whilst fully understanding the warning message not to ignore the moral codex and not dare to come into conflict with the established rules laid down by society. Regardless of how we may perceive and judge the situation that Max describes in Wilted, today it becomes clear why the artist was called a “painter of the soul” during his lifetime.


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