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Quartet Evening at Bettina von Arnim’s in Berlin (1856)
Like Madame de Staël in France and Rahel Varnhagen von Ense in Berlin, author Bettina von Arnim (1785-1859) was highly interested in cultural and political affairs. Her social circle included some of the most prominent figures of her era: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), and the brothers Grimm, among others. Arnim was the sister of Clemens Brentano (1778-1842) and the wife of Achim von Arnim (1781-1831), both Romantic writers. In addition to being a prolific writer of fiction herself, Bettina von Arnim also wrote about social reforms and women’s issues and was perceived by her contemporaries as a confident and unconventional woman. This watercolor of a musical evening at Arnim’s Berlin home is illustrative of the Romantics’ ideal of the “total work of art” [Gesamtkunstwerk]. Three busts hang prominently on the wall behind the musical quartet, and the blue sideboard in the background supports what appears to be a large (and rather curious) plaster sculpture of a seated figure elevated on series of bases. Watercolor by Carl Johann Arnold (1829-1916), 1856.