Europeans & Americans Abroad; Philadelphia Collection 73; September 2004
Carl Wilhelm Hubner
(German, 1814–1879)
Grace before a Meal: A Swabian Post Office in the Black Forest, 1863
Oil on canvas, mounted on Masonite; 47 1/2 × 61 3/4 inches
Signed and dated at lower left: “Carl Hubner 1863”
PROVENANCE (possible): J. G. Fell, Philadelphia; G. A. Conover, New York
EXHIBITED (possibly): Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia (1864), no. 41, as Grace before Meal—Scene—A Swabian Post-House Near Thuringen (lent by J. G. Fell); Great Central Fair, Philadelphia (1864), no. 470, as Family Devotion (lent by G. A. Conover, New York)

The genre painter Carl Wilhelm Hubner studied first in his native Königsberg, Germany, with Johann Edward Wolff (1786–1868), and then at the Düsseldorf Academy under Wilhelm Schadow (1788–1862) and Carl Sohn (1805–1867). In 1864 he became a professor at the Academy. Hubner established his reputation with paintings relating to contemporary social problems; his works met with great success, particularly in Holland and America (he visited the U.S. in 1874–75), which led to honorary memberships in the Amsterdam Academy and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Grace before a Meal was painted when Germany was immersed in the issue of political unification, and Hubner uses two portraits on the far wall to address this concern. The oval portrait is inscribed “Garibaldi,” a reference to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for the unity and independence of Italy; the other bears the name of King Wilhelm I of Wurtemberg, who was opposed to Prussian hegemony and in favor of German unification under Habsburg-Austrian rule.

Hubner identifies the setting of this narrative painting through the masthead of the newspaper in the foreground: Schwarzwalder Bote (Black Forest Courier). The inscription “Post Expedition” on the door leading from the family dining area to the next room and the sign “Post Bureau” above the opening through which an attendant speaks to a customer at the far right identify this as the post office and home of the postmaster. The postmaster’s family has been distracted from their meal by the elegantly dressed couple waiting at the office, perhaps for their coach. The gentleman is presumably Hubner himself; to his left is a painting easel with a tag that reads “Carl Hubner Duplingen post [illegible],” and the tag on the suitcase is inscribed “CH 75 Duplingen” (Duplingen may be the village that the gentleman has left or his destination). The subject may be autobiographical—the traveling couple may be the artist and his new wife on their honeymoon.

It is very likely that this painting was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1864 as Grace before Meal—Scene—A Swabian Post-House Near Thuringen; it may also have been exhibited the same year at the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia, under the title Family Devotion. Hubner also exhibited at the Berlin Academy. In addition to the National Gallery in Berlin, today his work is in museums in Königsberg, Düsseldorf, Hanover, and Oslo.

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