Carl Spitzweg - The Poor Poet

by Alexandra Tuschka


Spitzweg was probably something we would call a "workaholic" today. His extensive ouevre includes more than 1500 paintings and drawings. Of these, one in particular has made it into the public consciousness - The Poor Poet. The painting is based on the cliché of the poet, who is not interested in material externals, because he has turned completely to spiritual pleasures.

It is a picture that immediately makes us smile: a man is lying on an old mattress in the right part of the picture. He seems to find no motivation to get up and start the day - the sun is already shining strongly through the window, telling us that it is broad daylight. And the leaking roof doesn't bother the writer either - he has unceremoniously put up an umbrella that deflects the falling drops away from him. There are numerous books in front of the mattress and a few manuscript pages on the man's lap. His glasses have slipped down onto the tip of his nose. Possibly the man is crushing a flea between his fingers.

To the left is a green, unheated tiled stove. Next to it is a wash bowl and a worn-out towel hangs from a clothesline above it. A top hat and coat also hang in the picture. The poet has stuck some sheets of paper into the stove hole, which tell us in Latin script that here lie the poet's "third bundle of his works," which are apparently not to be used.


Today it is assumed that Spitzweg was alluding to the contemporary poet Mathias Etenhueber. The latter also lived in Munich and, although quite talented, struggled with fading fame and the financial difficulties that came with it.


Carl Spitzweg - The Poor Poet

Oil on canvas, 1839, 36 cm × 45 cm, Neue Pinakothek in Munich