Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) was one of the most creative minds of the early 19th Century. His architectural designs defined the Prussian state, and he was celebrated for his stage designs as well as being admired as a painter and much in demand to create elegant interiors. Schinkel owed his success to his exceptional talent and his tireless love of drawing.

Today, the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett is the keeper of Schinkel’s legacy with a collection of some 6,000 of mainly his own watercolours, gouaches, drawings and prints.

This drawing in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett is Schinkel’s earliest known work and dates from 1795, when he was just fourteen. It shows how talented he already was and reveals his early interest in Classical architecture.

In May 1803, Schinkel set off on his
first trip to Italy to study the Classical architecture that so fascinated him. He travelled with his friend and fellow artist Johann Gottfried Steinmeyer via Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Trieste, Venice, Padua, Bologna, Florence and Sienna before arriving in Rome in September 1803.
He noted his first impressions of the Eternal City in his journal,

"Suddenly the sight of the world’s first temple strikes … into my heart like a lightning bolt, and then, spreading out gradually in the rich plain on its 7 hills the expanse of Rome with its countless treasures unfolds before my amazed eyes."

Schinkel may well have sketched this portrait of himself and his travelling companion just there as they stood deep in conversation about the "countless treasures" of Roman architecture.

It is an interesting feature of this gouache drawing that Schinkel included the Arch of Septimius Severus on the right …

… and the three pillars of the Temple of Castor and Pollux on the left.

But while he was in Rome his interest
was roused not so much by his study of Antiquity as by the spatial arrangement of the city, as this drawing clearly shows.
At the centre of the composition is the Capitol with the Senators’ Palace, with outbuildings such as stables and sheds placed in front of them.
Schinkel noted in his travel journal,

"… every step reveals something remarkable. Impressions crowd in constantly and my thoughts rush ceaselessly through all the different ages whose traces are so colourfully thrown together here."

Schinkel visited Italy on another two occasions. Throughout his life he travelled extensively throughout Europe as well as to every corner of the Prussian state. During these private and professional trips he struck up and maintained friendships with important colleagues and scholars such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but he also found inspiration in his travels for Romantic compositions.

While travelling with his wife, Susanne, via Dresden and Prague to the Austrian Salzkammergut region in 1811, he stopped at the Königssee lake in Bavaria. Schinkel immortalised the boat trip the young couple took together there in one of the most magnificent and impressive pen-and-ink drawings of his held by the Kupferstichkabinett.

Susanne Schinkel is tenderly resting her hand on her husband’s shoulder. Schinkel himself is looking back over his shoulder, thus creating a connection with the viewer of the drawing.

On that trip to the Salzkammergut Susanne Schinkel was five months pregnant with their second daughter. The couple married in 1809 and by 1822 had four children together, the three girls Marie, Susanne and Elisabeth and their son Karl Raphael. Schinkel portrayed the whole family in a tender graphite pencil drawing which was part of the estate of Susanne Schinkel. The subject combines the ideas of family and roles held at the time with the architectural profession.

Surrounded by her three daughters, mother Susanne is teasing wool, while the son, Karl, is playing at being an archer on the right-hand side of the arabesque. Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the head of the family, is at the centre of the drawing gripping the shaft of a pillar representing his profession.

Schinkel began training as an architect when he was 17 in the studio of the Berlin architects David and Friedrich Gilly. A year later he attended the new Berlin Academy of Architecture and received his first commissions. His clients included members of the Prussian royal family, an exclusive clientele he subsequently worked for regularly. He created many exterior and interior designs for his aristocratic clients, including for the New Pavilion in Charlottenburg...

...or for the rooms of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV) in the Berlin Palace.

For the rooms in Prince August’s palace in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, Schinkel developed a number of stucco marble mouldings, noting on the sheet for the craftsmen carrying them out:

„Details of the kinds of marble in the various rooms of his Royal Highness Prince August. The samples must be made exactly in accordance with these instructions with each colour on a separate board so that the various boards may be arbitrarily combined. It is requested that this sheet should be returned to the construction files in as good a state of preservation as possible.“

Stage designs
Before Schinkel became established as an architect and built such important buildings as the Schauspielhaus in the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, he created stage designs. Possibly his best known of these is for the 'Hall of Stars in the Palace of the Queen of the Night' for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera 'The Magic Flute'.

Schinkel’s stage designs for the 'Magic Flute' embody impressively the struggle between the principles of good and evil, day and night and sun and moon in his designs for the radiant 'Sun Temple of Sarastro' and its counterpart, the darkly mystic 'Hall of Stars of the Queen of the Night'.

Iconic Buildings in Berlin
Schinkel’s career as an architect took him to the pinnacle of service for the Prussian state. In 1830 he was appointed Chief Architect, making him responsible for appraising all building projects in Prussia. In Berlin alone, many iconic buildings still bear testimony to his creative energy to this day, including the Schauspielhaus, the Neue Wache, the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, the Schlossbrücke, the Museum am Lustgarten (now called the Altes Museum) and the Bauakademie (Academy of Architecture), shortly to be reconstructed in what is now Schinkelplatz and one of the most modern buildings of Schinkel’s day.
The Bauakademie
Schinkel’s Bauakademie was the most innovative building of its day in Berlin and is still regarded as a forerunner of modern architecture. Schinkel gained inspiration for the design from a trip to England in 1826, when the industrial architecture of Manchester with its brick-built factories made a lasting impression on him. The design, with all sides the same, went radically against what was until then the usual style of building with a main facade and side facades. The painting by Eduard Gärtner shows clearly how the Academy of Architecture came to be dubbed the 'red box' by the people of Berlin.

Only when we look more closely do we see the terracotta reliefs decorating the facade of the Academy of Architecture. Made by local firms
and set into the brickwork beneath the windows, they depict Schinkel’s view of the history of architecture.

The Bauakademie housed the offices of the Prussian State Building Commission. As its director, Schinkel had an official residence in the building.

In 1844, three years after his death, the Schinkel Museum was inaugurated in this residence. It was one of the first museums dedicated to a single prominent person and remained there until 1873.

The director of the Schinkel Museum was Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth, Schinkel’s friend and colleague of many years’ standing, who is shown here in his office, surrounded by furniture designed by Schinkel. Beuth was also the director of the Trades Institute in Klosterstrasse, the extension to which was completed from Schinkel’s plans in 1826. Together the two of them were heavily involved in promoting trades and crafts in Prussia, Beuth as an engineer and Schinkel as an architect and designer. This led them to travel together around Great Britain, the mother country of industrialisation, looking for ideas that could be applied to the industry in their own country.

This large watercolour is one of a group of allegorical friendship pictures which Schickel gave as presents to his friend Beuth on various occasions, taking aspects of Beuth’s personality as their subjects.

The print cabinet with a marble tabletop to the left of the picture represents Beuth the art enthusiast. This was where he kept his important collection of prints and drawings, including works by Dürer and Holbein.

Most of this collection of Beuth’s is still in the inventory of the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, as is the print cabinet itself, which can be seen in the Study Room of the collection.

The bureau on the right in the picture illuminates the other important element in Beuth’s life. As well as his pleasure in collecting, hard work among the files defined the life of the Prussian bureaucrat.

Schinkel was only too well aware of this double life as an artist and official himself. With a little touch of irony Schinkel refers to the negative and positive consequences of such life for himself and his friend in the two vignettes at the top of the picture – 'Vanished youthful dreams of the diligent statesman' – as the loss of a life in the sun in the Bay of Naples...

... while this is countered by the excellent prospects offered by the 'Last philosophy of life of the great statesman', depicting the sensual pleasures of good food, drinking and owning art.

Together Schinkel and Beuth edited 'Models for Manufacturers and Tradesmen'.
Many of the designs included in this were used by manufacturers in Berlin.

Palace with a view
Showered with prizes, medals and honorary memberships, Schinkel spent the last decade of his life working mostly for the Prussian royal family as the official court architect. One of his most spectacular projects from that period is the Orianda palace in Crimea which he designed for the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, who was born as Princess Charlotte of Prussia, but which was never built. 

The most interesting feature of the Classical style design for Orianda is the temple on a platform above the entire palace complex on which, in Schinkel’s words, "… rises a pavilion in the form of a temple made almost transparent by means of large mirror panels," in which "that unique product of Russian art," large glass panels, were to be given radiant prominence.

What a breathtaking view of the Crimean coast and the Black Sea there would have been from there.

At the same time, Schinkel spent several periods from around 1830 in spas such as Marienbad (now Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Republic) and Bad Hofgastein in Austria in an attempt to improve his health, which was ailing, probably due to overwork. But he suffered a stroke on 9 September 1840 from which he never recovered. He went blind and hovered for a year between unconsciousness, semi-consciousness and full awareness before dying in his residence in the Academy of Architecture on 9 October 1841 at the age of 60. He was buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof cemetery in Berlin-Mitte.
Credits: Story

Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Concept / Editing: Nadine Rottau
Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Credits: All media
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