Franz Xaver Gräßel

Children with Geese, 1887

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Gräßel, also known as the »painter of ducks«, places a chattering group of geese at the centre of the composition. A girl uses her apron to toss food to the birds while the little boy is frightened and clutches on to her skirt. Helping to feed the animals was a daily task for the children on the farm.
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Franz Gräßel was a member of the Gutach artists’ colony founded by Wilhelm Hasemann in the Black Forest village of Gutach. In 1890, however, Gräßel moved to the vicinity of Munich, where he had already spent time as a student at the academy. Since his artistic specialty was the depiction of all kinds of feathered creatures, he came to be known as the “duck painter.” In this atmospheric scene, Gräßel shows a girl with a young child. Geese hurry up to the girl, who feeds them from her apron, but the small child holding her hand looks as if he is frightened of the birds. The gooseyard is enclosed by a drystone wall with a wooden gate. The scene occurs on a sunny day in the spring, for a fruit tree in full bloom appears on the right side of the picture. The massive overhanging roof of a stately Black Forest farmhouse appears in the background. After the often hard winter, the warmer months were an especially important time for the people of the Black Forest to replenish their stores. Although this painting presents a romantic view of rural life, the reality for the inhabitants was often much bleaker. On Black Forest farms, children like this girl would begin very early in life to help with the work and take on important duties. In those days, the farm work could not be accomplished without the children’s help, especially the care and feeding of the animals. It was above all the boys who would spend their days in the pastures with the livestock, often making it impossible for them to attend school. TILMANN VON STOCKHAUSEN (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)

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