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Philipp Otto Runge was born on 23 July 1777 in Wolgast in West Pomerania, and came to Hamburg at the age of 18. Runge then began to work in his brother Daniel's firm and entered into a circle of intellectually and artistically open-minded people. Daniel soon realized that art was Runge’s true vocation, and gave him a regular allowance so that he could work as he wanted. He studied painting at Hamburg and then at The Copenhagen Academy from 1799-1801. He later moved to Dresden where he struck up his friendships with Caspar David Friedrich and Ludwig Tieck, who introduced him to the ideas of the Schlegel circle. In the spring of 1804 Runge married Pauline Bassenge. The young couple moved to Hamburg and it was here that Runge created the major paintings: The Nightingale's Singing Lesson, Rest on the flight to Egypt, The Parents, The Hülsenbeck Children and both versions of Morning.
Philipp Otto Runge as with his contemporary of the time Caspar David Friedrich had a strong tendency to see the local landscape in symbolic terms. The two artists had a lot in common, both came from the extreme North of Germany and were influenced by a tradition of protestant mysticism. They both also studied at The Copenhagen Academy and completed their training in Dresden.
Runge started out as a history painter and gradually became more interested in landscape painting as he saw its symbolic potential. His life’s aim was to create a cycle of the ‘Times of day’ - ‘Die Tageszeiten’. He was fascinated by the universe as a whole and embarked on a series of huge compositions. He had the designs of ‘Tageszeiten’ engraved in 1805 and these were the only works of his known to a wide public in his lifetime. The symbolism of light and colour was also of great importance to Runge and in his lifetime, he created The Colour Ball to maximise his understanding of colour and there is a museum called Rungehaus about his creation open today in his hometown Wolgast. On his death in Hamburg on 2 December 1810 at the age of 33 Runge was to a large extent unknown and he had not had time to complete 'Die Tageszeiten’ that he aimed to present with both music and poetry, thus formulating a 'Gesamtkunstwerke' - a unity of the arts of which many Romanticists so fondly dreamed.
Runge also maintained correspondance with Goethe and is recognised as having influenced the English Romantics. Runge's legacy lives on strongly today; the quest to decipher the meaning behind some of his work including 'Die Tageszeiten' has been taken on by many. In a contemporary exhibition at the Percy Miller Gallery in London, Elizabeth Peebles has produced a group of wall paintings, each centrally featuring a silhouette of a plant taken from Philipp Otto Runge's botanical cut-outs, that explore and celebrate the legacy of the enigmatic German Romantic painter.
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