Large family portrait from the Biedermeier period

In 2008 the Couven Museum acquired a portrait from a private collection for its Biedermeier Room. The painting, measuring 125 x 155 cm, portrays the Aachen lawyer and Member of the Aachen City Council Johann Wilhelm Janssen (1799-1868) and his family. The portrait dates from 1843 and was painted by Clemens Bewer, a history painter and popular portraitist who was born in Aachen in 1820 and worked at the Düsseldorf Academy.

The full-length group portrait shows the upper middle class Janssen family on the terrace of their house next to a vine-entwined classicistic staircase. Johann Janssen is shown with his second wife, Magdalena Flemming (1800-1880), their four children and his two sons from his first marriage. The family is depicted in loving and peaceful harmony. The family father stands casually leant against a stone balustrade. He holds his second-eldest son Josef by the hand, while to our left his eldest son Max – with a very confident gaze straight at the observer – marks the starting point of sequence of portrayed figures.

At the centre of the painting sits the lady of the house, on a chair with elegantly lathed uprights. She wears a mauve silk gown with a fine lace collar over the décolleté and holds her right hand around the arm of their youngest child, four-year-old Mathilde, who wears a little dress in fashionable light blue. The grouping of mother and little daughter also includes the youngest son, Adolf, who sits on a footstool.  The group is completed to our right by the two sons from Janssen’s first marriage, Carl and Wilhelm Leopold, who are shown standing behind a small table.

The figure of the father dominates the group, a position reflecting his status in the family of the Biedermeier period. He represents the connection to the outside world and, accordingly, his gaze is fixed directly on the observer. In contrast, the wife and mother occupies the centre of the painting, reflecting the role of the woman as the centre of the family. She is responsible for an orderly household and her duty is to create a beautiful home for her husband and her family.

The painting is of exquisite artistic quality. The brushwork is fine and precise, the colours vibrant. In addition to the delicate colour shades, it is also the sophisticated lighting that makes this family portrait an excellent example of the artistic style of the 1830s.