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Whether it offers an image of a sun-drenched beach or a pristine ski slope, the picture-postcard has become a photographic genre unto itself, synonymous with escapist fantasy. With their “Wish you were here!” slogans and generic views, however, most of today’s mass-manufactured vacation spot postcards seem cheesy and disposable.
In Germany in the early 1900s, before the popularization of color film, colored photochrom postcards were coveted novelties, all the rage in a burgeoning tourist industry. And more than a century later, these images remain as mesmerizing as they were when first printed. A book from Taschen, Germany Around 1900: A Portrait in Colour, compiles 800 colored images of Germany’s Belle Époque, picturing sites from Ludwig II’s castles in the Bavarian Alps to fancy Baltic bathing resorts. They’re rare examples of the painstaking photochrom process, a printing technique originally developed by lithographer Hans Jakob Schmid, the chief engineer at Zurich printing firm Orell Füssli & Co., that allowed black-and-white photographs to be reproduced in color.
These postcards, which were manufactured as souvenirs for tourists, drench Germany with a kind of enchanted romanticism. The country was, at the time, experiencing an unusually long period of peace and economic prosperity after a turbulent 19th century, and these photochroms reflect widespread optimism and patriotism. They look hyperreal, almost too richly colored to be true, much like today’s postcard-gracing utopian shots of beaches and other vacation getaways. Viewed in retrospect, the optimism about Germany’s future also takes on a dark irony.
“They bring back to life places that have since suffered the ravages of time and the devastation of the wars of the 20th century,” collector Marc Walter writes in the book.
Above and beyond the commercial aspect that was a driving force behind their invention, the fact remains that these photochroms possess a powerful poetry that makes them eloquent witnesses of their epoch. . . . They attract, seduce, surprise and move us. The past comes back to life before our eyes, strangely present. What emerges is the souvenir of a country, a memoir in color. We have souvenir photography to thank for the fact that the ‘old days’ arise again in their former, unscathed glory, and the virtuoso photochromists for the fact that they do so in color.
The former panels, removed in 2017, featured images dedicated to Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
One researcher, Jürgen Schick, estimated that over half of the region’s historical artworks have been stolen.
The Morgan Library & Museum Presents Another Tradition: Drawings by Black Artists from the American South
This exhibition celebrates the Morgan’s recent acquisition of drawings by Thornton Dial, Nellie Mae Rowe, Henry Speller, Luster Willis, and Purvis Young.
The visual arts institution and educational center is located in the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world.
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Part of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the Art Preserve also functions as a curated collection facility and is filled with immersive installations.