Carl Gustav Carus – Nature and Idea at Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), who lived in Dresden from 1814 until his death, was not only an important artist – he was a Renaissance man in the true sense of the word and an outstanding representative of the intellectual and scientific life of his day. A physician, natural philosopher, man of letters, painter and draughtsman, Carl Gustav Carus occupies a special place in the intellectual spectrum of the early 19th century, spanning art, science and the philosophy of nature. His view of nature and the world was influenced by Friedrich Schelling, the naturalist and philosopher Lorenz Oken, Alexander von Humboldt, and above all by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, with whom he kept up a lively correspondence. His work creates close links between physics and metaphysics; nature and culture; science, art and life; body and soul; health and sickness; birth and death. Throughout his life and with amazing energy and boundless intellectual curiosity, Carus moved between the poles of art and science, alternating between the “Romantic” attempt to conceive of the mind and nature as a universal principle, and the aim of exploring and describing them positivistically in all their facets. The title of the exhibition, “Nature and Idea”, harks back to Carus’ book of the same name from 1861, in which he attempts to anchor the natural sciences in philosophy, and reflects the tension between positivism and idealism that runs through Carus’ entire body of work.

Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), Die Dreisteine in Riesengebirge, 1826. Ol auf Leinwand, 64 X 92.5 cm. GNM, Inv.-Nr. 2215 G. © Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Photo: Gerhard Reinhold

The exhibition features approximately 250 of Carus’ own paintings and drawings as well as 50 outstanding works of art by his contemporaries Caspar David Friedrich, Johan Christian Dahl, August Heinrich, Pierre Jean David d’Angers and Ernst Rietschel. Most of the artworks shown derive from the collections of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, which has the most extensive publicly owned collection of Carus’ work. The Kupferstich-Kabinett has over 700 of his drawings and prints in its collections, and the Galerie Neue Meister holds 22 of his paintings, including some of the finest examples of the Dresden school of Romantic painting.

Besides the works of art featured, the exhibition encompasses scientific illustrations, letters, literary work and writings on science and art theory by Carus and others.

It also includes approximately 30 exhibits from Carus’ extensive collection of skulls and plaster casts, which are now part of the anthropological collections of the Dresdner Völkerkundemuseum (Dresden Museum of Ethnology) and the anatomical teaching collection at the University of Leipzig’s Faculty of Medicine. Medical instruments and anatomical and natural history specimens are also on display. The exhibition incorporates loans from around 60 private and public collections.

The exhibition is divided between two locations: the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in the Semperbau am Zwinger and the Kupferstich-Kabinett in the Residenzschloss. It is organised thematically rather than chronologically or according to genre.

Semperbau, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
– Carus the man and Carus the physician
– Carus’ world in Dresden and Pillnitz; travels to the island of Rügen and to Italy
– Poetry and artistic history in Carus’ work
– Carus’ personal relationships to important contemporaries such as Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Caspar David Friedrich, Ludwig Tieck, Lorenz Oken and King John of Saxony.

Residenzschloss, Kupferstich-Kabinett
– Geognostic landscapes
– Nature studies and late charcoal drawings
– Zootomy, comparative anatomy and physiology
– Cranioscopy and constitutional theory

Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Taschenberg 2
D 01067 Dresden