The Commercial Appeal of the Roses of Catharina Klein (1861 – 1929).

You may not have heard of Catharina Klein or her roses but once you are aware of their beauty and distinctive style it is likely you will want to know more. Catharina built a huge following during her lifetime. Even now, over one hundred years later, her paintings sit well with the vintage style liked by so many people thus her popularity continues. A signature on a Catharina Klein painting identifies a work as hers. If there is no signature it is likely to have been painted by one of her students or avid followers. An underlined signature usually indicates an earlier work.

An early Catharina Klein postcard/painting.

Although Catharina studied painting in Berlin with her work being bought by the German nobility she also painted for book illustrations, advertisements and the then new craze of postcards that became so popular at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. At this time the commercial spread of her work saw no bounds. She had no problem selling her paintings to many publishers who then were able to use each one as they wished. They could adapt a painting to suit their needs or even sell it on to other publishers. This is how her paintings came to be printed in their thousands many with different formats or with differing backgrounds. Occasonally a piece was merged with another painters work, hence the need for her signature for identification of her true works.

Catharina often added baskets, vases etc to her work.

Catharina’s paintings, either in oil or gouache, were reproduced by chromolithography, a process allowing coloured printing rather than just the black and white processing of lithography. At the end of the 19th century this process had become widespread and enabled mass production of postcards, which were sent in their thousands. It enabled her paintings to become widespread with some of her best work appearing on the postcards of Meissner and Buch and Raphael Tuck and Sons. Roses were her most popular subject but she painted many flowers and later some fruits and birds.

A single woman who had to make a living, Catharina could see that the production of postcards was lucrative for her. She often painted from real life but would then use her creativity to fit the painting within the dimensions of a postcard.  She is reputed to have painted 1000 illustrations for the publishers Meissner and Buch alone. As they used good card stock and expensive inks many of the cards are in excellent condition today and allow rose enthusiasts to build extensive collections of her paintings.

Catharina is thought to have painted over 2,000 works.

It is her painting for postcards that has allowed her work to be so well recognized today as many of her original paintings were destroyed during wartime bombings.  It is not known where many originals survive. Painting largely for the commercial sale of postcards, however, detracted from her reputation as a serious artist and it seems she was never recorded as a painter of ‘fine’ art.

Two particular commercial enterprises added to Catharina’s popularity. Raphael Tuck and Sons published a postcard book for amateur watercolour artists. Each page had a chromolithographed Catharina Klein postcard together with a monochrome outline of the postcard for the owner to paint. Once completed both postcards could be detached and sent. Catharina herself developed an alphabet series for Meissner and Buch, each featuring a letter of the alphabet entwined with flowers. Several of these featured roses. It appears that this set was extremely popular when produced and even today avid collectors of her paintings will go to expensive lengths to complete the set.

One of her painting books.

Catharina, originally from the small town of Eylau (now Bagrationovsk)  just North East of the Polish border trained in Berlin. She then ran a studio there training young women to paint. In 1911 she published two short books, one on how to paint fruit and the other how to paint flowers. A number of her paintings were included in the books of others especially books of stories and poetry. The “Yearbook of American Authors”, written and compiled by Ida Scott Taylor had illustrations by Catharina and “Rubies from Byron” was also illustrated by her. 

This is the first postcard I ‘discovered’ painted by Catharina. I bought it because I have a painting very similar.

Although Catharina’s work was often regarded as too commercial for ‘official’ art notoriety she certainly had and still has her followers, perhaps more so than some of the artists who are recognised for their ‘fine’ art. She made a good living from her painting and helped others to paint as well. She still inspires many of us today who appreciate the relaxed and distinctive style of her paintings. We can only thank the postcard industry for keeping alive this talented painter’s work and allowing us to view so many of her roses.

(Since I wrote this article I have collected more information and many more images and artefacts relating to Catharina Klein. If you have further queries please ask.)

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