Famous Artists, History Highlights, Notes on German Culture, Prussia...Northern Germany

The Wagner Memorial in Berlin was donated by an Opera Singer in 1904

The 1904 unveiling of the Wagner Memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park was a major social event, interestingly thanks to the opera singer Ludwig Leichner, who donated the Memorial to the city of Berlin. The event was memorialized in a painting by the famous artist, Anton von Werner. He was commissioned to capture the unveiling ceremony, but Werner went above and beyond, creating an amazing number of fine portraits of the distinguished guests that surrounded Ludwig Leichner as he presented the new Wagner Memorial to the crowd of dignitaries

Anton von Werner: The Unveiling of the Memorial to Richard Wagne
Anton von Werner: The Unveiling of the Memorial to Richard Wagner in Berlin

Below, in this excerpt from the painting, you see Ludwig Leichner greeting Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia. Standing behind Leichner is Gustav Eberlein, sculptor of the Wagner Monument. 

In another part of the canvas he depicted his friend and fellow famous artist, Adolph von Menzel, in a rare image of the very short 4’ 6” Menzel conversing with Empress Victoria-Augusta, just one year before his death.

Obviously, the Wagner Memorial unveiling was a big event, but you may wonder, how was it that a singer in the 19th century could manage to make such a magnanimous donation to the city of Berlin? I followed up on this question and learned that Leichner was a student of chemistry and a businessman from Berlin who went by the stage name Raphael Carlo, specializing in operas by Richard Wagner.

Being both an opera singer and a student of chemistry, Leichner was in an ideal situation to advance the cause of stage make-up. Because newly invented electric stage lighting made historically used make-up problematic, Leichner developed a chemical solution.

The greasepaint Leichner developed had a greater covering power and intensity of color than the old powder make-up and gave actors more control over how it was applied. Skin tones, shadows and highlights were easier to create so, when correctly applied, greasepaint enabled actors’ faces to look more natural, have a more even complexion and be more expressive in the brighter light; in short, they looked more lifelike. The make-up was also largely unaffected by perspiration.

Leichner proceeded to establish a commercial powder and make-up business in Berlin in 1873 and within a short time was selling his products internationally. Thanks to the success of multi-talented Ludwig Leichner, Wagner enthusiasts can still visit Berlin today and admire the great composer’s memorial.


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