Werner Tübke (b. 30 July 1929 in Schönebeck, Germany, d. 27 May 2004 in Leipzig, Germany) was a German painter, best known for his monumental Peasants’ War Panorama located in Bad Frankenhausen.
Tübke’s opus magnum, Early Burgeois Revolution in Germany, has a size of 14 by 123 meters. It depicts a scene from the German Peasants’ War, which took place from 1524 to 1525.
Studies and Teaching
Tübke was born on 30 July 1929 in Schönebeck on the Elbe. His artistic talent was recognized early on, and he began taking private drawing lessons at the age of 10. In 1946 he began a painter’s apprenticeship and attended the Technical School for German Crafts in Magdeburg. In 1947, following his Abitur (higher education entrance qualification), Tübke studied at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig (HGB) before transferring in 1950 to the University of Greifswald to study art education and psychology. He returned to Leipzig, working as an assistant professor and finally as an independent artist. Although he was dismissed in 1957 for political reasons, he returned to the HGB in 1962, becoming a professor in 1972 and rector the following year. He gave up this position in 1976 to devote himself to the monumental painting for the Bad Frankenhausen Panorama Museum.
Tübke’s painting style once led the critic Eduard Beaucamp to call him the “great anachronist”; his departure from both the artistic trends of his time and the socialist realism predominant in East Germany was apparent. Tübke turned to traditional German and Italian artists; his role models included Hans Holbein the Elder and the Younger, as well as Albrecht Dürer. His paintings were characterized by manneristic contortions and figures dressed in old-fashioned garb. His style can thus be best described as magic realism with surreal elements.
He never considered himself a modern artist, but rather executed his ideas according to his own artistic conceptions, even if the work was commissioned by the ruling Socialist Unity Party of East Germany. Because he was also willing to accept such commissions, some accused him of being a state artist. Others, however, praised him as a critic of the system for his non-conformist stance. He himself refused to be pigeonholed in either category, for his artistic self-conception fit neither of these extremes.
Living outside the endless renewal of the modern age, but equally unimpressed by the political expectations that his contractor, the state, placed on art, he founded a genuinely autonomous, ambivalent metaphorical mannerism rooted in the entire transformative wealth of the Western Christian visual tradition. Meanwhile, this style itself can also be rated as a phenomenon in art history, an achievement first recognised in Italy in the early 1970s, but which in Germany is at times still seriously underestimated.
Along with Bernhard Heisig and Wolfgang Mattheuer, he was one of the founders and most important representatives of the Leipzig School (Leipziger Schule), which had a significant influence on an entire generation of painters. Their realistic style of painting combined technical and artistic skill with social analysis and made Leipzig the focus of German painting at the time.