Hans Thoma was a very distinguished German painter in his time. He was born on October 2, 1839 in the southwestern part of Germany, and his hometown was Bernau, located in the Black Forest region. When he was 13 or 14 years old he went to Basel, where he was apprenticed with a lithographer for a time, and then with a painter until 1855. It was that year that he found employment with a clock-face painter who taught Thoma all that he knew.
To further his education he asked admittance to the Karlsruhe Academy in 1859, where he studied until 1866. His notable teachers during the course of his stay at the Academy were Hans Canon (1829–1885) and Ludwig des Coudres (1820-1878), who were both historical and portrait painters, and Johann Wilhelm Schirmer (1802-1866), a landscape artist who was also the director of the Academy from 1854 until 1866. When Thoma left Karlsruhe, he first went to Düsseldorf where he stayed for a couple of years in hopes of selling his paintings, and then in May of 1868 he travelled to Paris with his new friend and artist, Otto Scholderer.
Thoma had not been as greatly influenced by his teachers as he was by the works of 15th -16th century German Northern Renaissance artists Albrecht Altdorfer and Cranach the Elder. Then, in Paris, he was introduced to the works of French Realist painter, Gustave Courbet. When Thoma returned again to Germany, it was with renewed inspiration and ideas to paint landscapes with figures such as Courbet’s. He settled in Munich, from 1870 until 1884, where he made a great number of artist friends, including Arnold Böcklin, and he found a good promoter and patron in art aficionado, Dr. Eiser. Thoma’s largest commission was an order for five frescoes to be made in the home of architect Simon Ravenstein in 1882. Ravenstein wanted Richard Wagner opera themes created to decorate his house.
Another journey out of Germany took him to Italy, and on his return from that trip he married one of his previous students whose name was Cella Barteneder, and they settled in Frankfurt. Thoma was never famous until he had his greatest success in an exhibition of 30 of his paintings in Munich, 1890. After joining the Munich Secession he went on to be a gallery director and in 1899 he moved back to Karlsruhe when he was chosen to be the professor of the city’s academy of art. The following years brought more recognition, such as an honorary degree given to him by the University of Heidelberg, and in 1917 he was given Prussia’s highest award for personal merit which is called the Pour le Mérite, or commonly, the Blue Max.
The Hans Thoma Museum was made in the annex of the Karlsruhe Kunsthalle in 1909, in honor of his seventieth birthday, and he held the position as the director of the Karlsruhe Kunsthalle until he retired in 1919. He resided in Karlsruhe until his death on November 7, 1924. A majority of his life’s work has been divided into two separate collections, both private, and both located in Liverpool, but a few of the remaining pieces can be found in the Dresden Gallery and the Frankfurt Museum.
A list of his works include: The Guardian of the Valley; Pieta; Spring Idyll; Tritons; Eve in Paradise; Adam and Eve; The Open Valley; Flight into Egypt; Paradise; Charon; Christ and Nicodemus; at least two murals, several lithographs and pen and ink drawings.