Copies of Bruckner's Death Mask for Sale
The gallery’s opening show, “Near Life,” will recall another hidden chapter of the museums’ shared history—the Gipsformerei, Berlin’s plaster-cast workshop, which created and sold plaster copies of Berlin’s artworks. Featuring some 260 objects, “Near Life,” which will run from Aug. 30 to March 1, 2020, celebrates the golden age of the plaster cast in the 19th century, when death masks, and the occasional life mask, of great artists were displayed in peoples’ homes.
The show includes a copy of composer Anton Bruckner’s death mask and a full-scale model of a crocodile, presumably found in a zoo or Berlin’s Natural History Museum. There are also works loaned from other collections, such as a plaster-cast copy of a Rodin sculpture, made by the artist himself.
The workshop once did a brisk business in plaster body parts, used in art classes around Europe, says Veronika Tocha, the show’s curator, adding that plaster-cast users included Adolph Menzel, whose realistic history paintings made him Berlin’s greatest artist for much of the 19th century. His 1852 rendering of his own studio wall, decorated with ghostly plaster limbs, “shows that he used plaster casts in his work,” she says.
The making of plaster-cast copies is still a Berlin business, though now more of a luxury trade than in its pre-World War I heyday. These days, the Gipsformerei is selling a Bruckner death mask for 490 euros.
My thanks to Gaffney Feskoe and Ben Korstvedt for providing this information.