Biedermeier

It seems that I would have a sudden understanding of insignificant things that I failed to notice in childhood at the most unexpected moment! 

I am on holiday in Phuket. What I read by the pool in the daytime is Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert written by Walter Benjamin. 

In the chapter of peepshow, Benjamin described his childhood experience of visiting peepshow, he said: “Peepshow was not created until the 19th century when Biedermeier was prevalent.”

The word “Biedermeier” struck me as oddly familiar, then I read it again and again. Bi-eder-mei-er.

Oh!!!

This is the name of a canned coffee I used to buy when I was a child in Taipei, but now, it has disappeared from the market. 

Coffee packaging in Taiwan, is prone to French style for its exotic French style recognized by Asians. So in my childhood, the canned drink I oftenly bought was called “La Rive Gauche de la Seine Coffee” before Starbucks conquer our city. “La Rive Gauche de la Seine Coffee” has been really successful and it is still available at all 7-11 and Family Mart in Taiwan. “Biedermeier Coffee”, at that time, was my alternative to “La Rive Gauche” in my dull, tired, cram school evenings.

I was certainly not diligent enough to check the original meaning of Biedermeier at that time.

Twenty years later, Biedermeier jumped into my eyes from a book and made a big surprise to me. 

Wow…, Biedermeier is actually related to the development of Germany in the early 19th century.

Wow…., there is some German link in my childhood memory, even when the French or Japanese culture was much more prevailing at that time.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the increased political oppression forces people to focus on family and non-political matters. Due to the strict censorship of publications during this period, litterateur in Biedermeier mainly chose non-political subjects, such as historical literature and rural life. In the Biedermeier era from the signing of Vienna Convention for Federal States in 1815 to the beginning of bourgeois revolution in 1848, the country was governed by the revived feudal government. Most citizens in this society chose to return to the private sphere. 

Carl Spitzweg, The love letter, 1845-1846
Courtesy to Carl Spitzweg

Moreover, with the rapid development of urbanization and industry, the emerging bourgeoisie had been enlarging, and the lifestyle and demands was gradually replaced the traditional aristocratic tastes and became the new mainstream. Schubert’s early music is a typical example that cater to bourgeoisie tastes. The music simply played by a piano without the requirement of profound music knowledge presents the fact that art had integrated into the public life in this period.

So did the development of painting. Most painting in this period are about family happiness, quiet fields and simple life away from politics.

Carl Spitzweg, Der Sonntagsspziergang, 1841
Courtesy to Carl Spitzweg

I got to know an important painter of that era, Carl Spitzweg (1808-1839) from the delightful painting Der Sonntagsspziergang. His drawing method of figure is similar to cartoons way. In theatrical pictures, the extremely vivid dynamic and expressions of characters enable audience become clear at a glance and compose a humorous and interesting story by themselves. In Der Sonntagsspziergang, a work made in 1841, the family is obviously very rich. The middle-aged and portly father holds his young son and leads the wife and daughter to play in the suburbs. When adults are looking for shade place to sit down and rest for a picnic, the children are chasing dragonflies and butterflies.

Immediately, I fall in love with such a painting as it was free from the pomp and vanity of European court portraits before the 19th century or the strict constraints of traditional religious belief. 

The detail of Carl Spitzweg, Der Bücherwurm, ca. 1850
Courtesy to Carl Spitzweg

I really enjoy the work by Spitzweg, which is funny and unpretentious. His Der Bucherwurm also reminds me of my old father. From the perspective of current society, it is unrealistic for people to be greedy in books other than wealth.

Through a childhood, unimportant canned coffee, I learn Biedemeier time and its most symbolic artist. As a professional in art business, I feel lucky and blessed.

畢德麥雅Biedermeier

人似乎在最不經意的時刻,會忽然明白小時候不理解或是不注意的細小事物!

我現在在普吉島度假。白天我坐在泳池畔閱讀的是本雅明(Walter Benjamin)寫的《柏林童年》(Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert)。

本雅明在「西洋鏡」的篇章裡,講述了兒時參觀西洋鏡的感受。他說:「西洋鏡誕生於十九世紀,但不會再早,但正是畢德麥雅流行的時期。」

「畢德麥雅」 (Biedermeier) 這個詞我覺得異常熟悉。我反覆地看這四個字。畢-德-麥-雅。

啊~!!!

這是我學生時代在台北經常買的一款罐裝咖啡的名字,現在應該在市場上消失了。

台灣的咖啡行銷包裝術,跟日本、韓國以至於整個亞洲區域,都是傾向法國的,主要販賣一種亞洲人心理認同的法國風情。所以我小時候,在星巴克還沒有佔領我們的城市之前,經常買的罐裝飲料叫做「左岸咖啡」。是的,塞納河左岸充滿濃厚的藝文氣息,商人用此命名咖啡,令銷售立於不敗之地,這款飲料至今,在所有台灣的7-11和Family Mart屹立不搖。畢德麥雅,則是一款異數,它是我在左岸咖啡之外的另一款選擇。

在還是撥接上網的時代,我當然沒有對畢德麥雅這幾個字產生好奇心,也當然沒有上網查詢它原文的意義。可是畢德麥雅確實在我中學時期,是我固定到數學補習班之前會購買的飲料之一,它是我缺乏驚喜生活裡的新花樣。

二十年後,畢德麥雅從書裡的字裡行間跳到我眼前,令我驚喜。

原來,畢德麥雅與十九世紀初期德國的發展有關。

原來,在崇尚法國與日本文化的台灣島上,我自己的經驗裡也存在一點德國的影子,只是我當時不知道而已。

在拿破崙戰爭落幕後,政治壓迫逐漸增加,迫使人民專注於家庭和非政治事務。由於此時期對於出版物有嚴格的審查制度,畢德麥雅文學家主要選取非政治題材,例如歷史文學和鄉村生活等。從1815年德意志聯邦諸國簽訂維也納公約,至1848年資產階級革命開始的畢德麥雅時代由復興的封建政府所統治。大部分市民面對該社會的反應是回歸私人領域。

再者,隨著都市化和工業的蓬勃發展,新興中產階級不斷擴大,其生活方式與需求逐漸取代傳統貴族品味,成為社會的新主流。舒伯特早期的藝術歌曲便是迎合中產階級愛好的一例。它不需要艱深的音樂素養。簡單地由一架鋼琴演奏,呈現此時期藝術逐漸深入大眾的生活。

在繪畫方面的發展也是。此時的繪畫會充滿快樂的大家庭、恬靜的原野以及遠離政治的質樸生活。

我從《星期天的散步》 (Der Sonntagsspziergang)這幅令人愉悅的畫作中,認識了那個時代的標誌性藝術家卡爾‧施皮次格偉(Carl Spitzweg, 1808-1839)。他對人物的描繪,有一點趨向後來的漫畫:在帶有舞台性的畫面中,人物動態和表情都極為生動,令觀眾一目瞭然,並且能自己譜出一齣幽默有趣的故事。作於1841年的《星期天的散步》中,這家人生活顯然富足、中年凸肚的父親牽著幼子,領著太太女兒等一行人往郊外玩耍。他們正尋覓一處陰涼、等大人坐下來休息野餐時,孩子們就去追蜻蜓與蝴蝶。

我立刻就喜歡上這樣的繪畫,因為它脫離了十九世紀之前歐洲宮廷肖像的華麗虛榮、或是傳統宗教信仰的圖像學嚴格約束。

我欣賞施皮次格偉的作品,一切既有趣又不做作、看得意猶未盡。他畫的《書蟲》(Der Bücherwurm)還令我想到我的老爹。在現今的世道來看,人類在財富以外的書本上貪心,也是不容易,不入世的一種浪漫情懷啊。

從一罐不起眼的畢德麥雅咖啡,認識了畢德麥亞時期,以及當時的藝術家,對我這個在藝術行業裡的人來說,還真是醍醐灌頂,學無止境。

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