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Werner Hunzinger was one of a generation of German artists who came to America in the wake of the failed liberal revolution of 1848. He was a native of Krefeld, a city twelve miles northwest of Düsseldorf on the left bank of the Rhine River, long-established as a linen and silk-weaving centre. With close proximity with the art school at Düsseldorf, it is likely that Hunzinger would have either studied there or been influenced by the artists who made it an international magnet for fine arts training.
The details of Hunzinger’s life are sketchy. He first appears in the New York City directory in 1852-3 as an “importer”, doing business at 39 Broad Street and living in Brooklyn. In subsequent years his business address varied, and he was described either as a “merchant” or an “importer”. He appears to have mostly lived in Brooklyn although in 1857-58 his home address was described simply as “Europe”. The listings end in 1861.
Hunzinger has been variously described as a landscapist, portraitist, and still-life painter, however he is best known in America for his still-life work. A vertical table-top fruit and wine-glass still life, inscribed and dated New York 1850, is in the collection of the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia (see Three Hundred Years of American Art in the Chrystler Museum , page 122 illustrated). In 1852, Hunzinger sold two still-lifes, one described as Fruit and one as Fruit and Wine to the American Art-Union in New York. Hunzinger’s images recall those of Severin Roesen, a fellow German who was enjoying success in New York at the same time. Both men, of course, found inspiration in the Dutch still-life tradition, as mediated through Johann Wilhelm Preyer (1803-1889), a Düsseldorf academician who visited Holland in 1835 and popularized Dutch still-life motifs among a circle of contemporary artists. Hunzinger’s faithfulness to Netherlandish devices is particularly notable in a neat touch that appears on both the Chrysler canvas and the present work: the artist painted a miniature three-quarter self-portrait reflection in the German-style wine glass on table top.
Further details of Hunzinger’s life remain unknown. The New York City directory listings indicate that he did not rely on his art to support himself. His entry in the Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Kunstler, von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart by Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker reflects a modest, but continuing, awareness of his artistic career in his hometown of Krefeld, Germany. The level of expertise and art-historical knowledge he displays on the present canvas and the one in the Chrystler Museum suggest a thorough grounding in academic technique that must have been acquired in Germany, most likely at Dusseldorf Academy. Hunzinger’s death date remains a matter of conjecture. The present Still Life of Fruit and Wine Glass, with a Reflected Self-Portrait bears witness to what is most certain about his life: that he was a highly talented still-life artist whose canvases retain the ability to please a century and a half after his creation.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1981; sold to
Richard Manoogian, Grosse Point, Michigan; to
Masco Corporation, Taylor, Michigan, until 1998;