More than any other painter of his time, Wilhelm Kuhnert shaped the notion of Africa. In the late 19th and early 20th century, he was one of the first European artists to set out on a number of journeys to the former colony of German East Africa, which at that time was still largely unexplored.
During these journeys, his sketches of the animal and plant world were often created under difficult conditions. These served as the basis for his monumental paintings, which he later created in his Berlin studio and exhibited internationally with great success. Kuhnert stood out for his almost scientific approach: He captured the characteristics of the animals and the landscape in which they lived with great precision. It is not surprising that his animal pictures were published in zoological books like Brehms Tierleben (Brehm’s Life of Animals), as wall charts for school classrooms and on the wrappers of Stollwerck chocolate.
Although Wilhelm Kuhnert remains one of the most frequently collected academic painters to this day, his work is largely unknown by the broader public. Now, for the first time, the SCHIRN is presenting a comprehensive retrospective of his life and work. The exhibition combines studies and paintings from European and American museums, private collections, and Kuhnert’s estate with numerous prints and commercial graphics and publications by the artist. Here, Kuhnert’s work is seen not only as a mirror of the history of art and natural science, but also against the background of the history of colonialism. As such it also makes a contribution to the current debate on the handling of Germany’s colonial past.