Oppenheim, Moritz Daniel

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OPPENHEIM, MORITZ DANIEL (1799–1882), German painter. Oppenheim was born in Hanau and, after studying art at Frankfurt and Munich, he went to Paris and in 1821 to Rome, where he stayed four years. There he came under the influence of the Nazarenes, a group of fervently Christian artists who painted New Testament scenes. In 1825 Oppenheim returned to Frankfurt. His paintings of Old and New Testament scenes were soon widely appreciated. His most loyal patrons were the Rothschilds and he was known as "painter of the Rothschilds" and–on account of his financial success–as "the Rothschild of the painters." He earned praise from Goethe to whom he sent two drawings based on Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea. Goethe, whom Oppenheim visited in Weimar and whose portrait he painted, persuaded the grand duke of Weimar to bestow upon the painter the title of honorary professor. In 1833 a picture with the narrative title "Return of a Jewish Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to his Family Still Living According to the Old Tradition" brought the artist further renown. Encouraged by its wide success, Oppenheim painted 19 other canvases on Jewish motifs. These were eventually published in an album, Bilder aus dem altjuedischen Familienleben (1865) which appeared in the United States as Family Scenes from Jewish Life of Former Days (1866). These genre scenes, realistic yet tinged with romanticism, were much appreciated. They show excellent composition, and real skill in the grouping of the dramatis personae. They have been frequently reproduced to illustrate books on Jewish topics. He produced a series of large pictures on confrontations between Jews and Christians, e.g., Moses Mendelssohn and Lavater, Mendelssohn and Frederick the Great. Undoubtedly, Oppenheim's best works are his numerous portraits, pencil sketches as well as oils, including portraits of Ferdinand Hiller and Gabriel Riesser. He illustrated works by Berthold Auerbach and Solomon Hermann von Mosenthal. The city of Frankfurt commissioned him to paint portraits of past emperors for the Kaisersaal (Emperor's Hall) in the Roemer, the medieval town hall. Admirers came from all parts of Europe to visit his studio in Frankfurt. He continued to paint in his skillful, charmingly naive manner until a few days before his death, unconcerned with the changes in art and taste since his student days in Rome. His autobiography was published posthumously: Erinnerungen, ed. by A. Oppenheim (1924).


L.A. Mayer, Bibliography of Jewish Art (1967), index; Roth, Art, 544, 522–5. add. bibliography: R. Droese, F. Eisermann, M. Kingreen, A. Merk (ed.), Der Zyklus "Bilder aus dem altjuedischen Familienleben" und sein Maler Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1996); G. Heuberger and A. Merk (eds), Moritz Daniel Oppenheim: Die Entdeckung des juedischen Selbstbewusstseins in der Kunst Exhibition catalogue, Juedisches Museum Frankfurt (1999; with catalogue of works); C. Praeger (ed.), Moritz Daniel Oppenheim: Erinnerungen eines deutsch-juedischen Malers (1999).

[Alfred Werner]

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