Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
The Discoverer of Jewish Self-Confidence in Art
Moritz Daniel Oppenheim was a German painter and is regarded as the first Jewish artist of the modern era since he was the first Jewish artist to gain acceptance in German society. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and is often described as being the ‘discoverer of Jewish self-confidence in art.’
In Oppenheim’s time, prior to the emancipation of European Jewry, Jewish people were confined to ghettos. Jewish artists were prohibited from classical art institutions and apprenticeships with master artists, effectively limiting a Jewish artist’s reach to only his immediate community. Oppenheim became the first Jewish painter to receive classical training and exposure to modern art movements.
Many Jews chose to convert to Christianity in an effort to become more successful but Oppenheim tried to preserve and embolden the Jewish identity, going so far as to challenge the assumptions of his non-Jewish audience. He depicted the Jewish ghettos as clean and hospitable contradicting the common perception that they were dirty, uncomfortable, and uncultured places to live. He chose his subjects carefully so as to portray Jewish life in the best light possible and emphasized subjects that were in alignment with German society’s values.
The painter of the Rothschilds and the Rothschild of painters
In 1825 Oppenheim settled in Frankfurt and set his sights on becoming the portrait painter for the wealthiest Jews in Germany: the Rothschilds. The Rothschilds made their fortune in banking and in the 19th century possessed the largest private fortune in the world, in fact, the largest private fortune in modern world history. He painted the portraits of members of the Rothschild family and traveled throughout Europe as their agent.
Oppenheim painted other aspiring Jewish families as well, and in doing so, he captured the emancipation of the Jewish bourgeoisie in the city of Frankfurt. One such family, the von Simpsons converted to Protestantism in 1823, but the Professor and Politician Martin Eduard von Simpson was born in 1810 in Königsberg, East Prussia, to a Jewish family. Oppenheim’s portrait of the Professor & his Wife has been in a private collection for nearly a century and is now coming to auction. Eduard von Simpson was a German jurist and distinguished liberal politician of the Kingdom of Prussia and German Empire, who served as President of the Frankfurt Parliament – the first freely elected parliament for all of Germany.
Oppenheim also created history paintings with contemporary and Biblical subjects, illustrated books, painted the portraits of the emperors Otto IV and Joseph II in the ‘Römersaal’ in Frankfurt City Hall, as well as portraits of the German poet & journalist Heinrich Heine, and the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His painting “Lavater and Lessing Visit Moses Mendelssohn” depicts a meeting between Mendelssohn (on the left in red), Lavatar (seated on the right), and Lessing (standing in the center), and references the real-life meetings they had in the early 1760s. The friendship between Lavatar and Mendelssohn became a paradigm of the possibility of a harmonious cohabitation between Germans and Jews.
The “Portrait of Professor Martin Eduard von Simson and his Wife” will be coming to auction Feb. 25, 2018 at Clars Auction Gallery. For more information please visit clars.com
Also, if you are interested, the first documentary on Oppenheim just came to the United States this January 2018. You can learn more about it here: http://moritzdanieloppenheim.com/