Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller: Facets of human empathy


Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793–1865), The Compassionate Child (The Beggar),
oil on panel, 66 x 52 cm, estimate € 150,000 – 200,000

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s masterful depictions of human sentiments

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s genre painting “The Compassionate Child”, which is being sold for the benefit of the sight loss charity the Vision Foundation, UK, captures various facets of human empathy in what appears to be an everyday scene: standing at the sunlit entrance to a simple farmstead home is an approximately four-year-old child, who can be seen handing a bun to a stooping beggar with a heavy bag on his shoulder. Their eyes meet, the child’s features reveal an intense expression of heartfelt sympathy. The scene is all the more moving given the charitable child’s own apparent poverty: plaster crumbles off the thick walls of her family’s modest home. Her bare-footed mother, clad in an indigo-dyed apron, watches the scene from the door frame with another small child cradled in her arms.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793–1865), Das gutmütige Kind (Der Bettler), Öl auf Holz, 66 x 52 cm, Schätzwert € 150.000 – 200.000
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793–1865), The Compassionate Child (The Beggar), oil on panel, 66 x 52 cm, estimate € 150,000 – 200,000

Although the expression on the mother’s face also catches our attention, it is less easy to read. Her gaze is compassionate, if somewhat questioning. As an adult, she seems less inclined to openly show her compassion than her child. She knows that though the bun might assuage the beggar’s hunger pangs in the moment, it is of no lasting help to him. Waldmüller’s depiction of the mother takes the theme of compassion beyond the individual case to a more general level.

The younger sibling imitates the scene by breaking a piece of bread in half, which seems to be an appeal to the viewer to do the same. In this scenario, the lush rosebush growing out of the barren soil on the right might also be read as a kind of concluding metaphor, a reminder that human warmth can flourish even under the harshest conditions.


19th Century Paintings, 7 June 2021, 16:00 (CET)
Palais Dorotheum, Dorotheergasse 17, 1010 Vienna

Tel. +43-1-515 60-355, 377

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