Over a hundred drawings of railway-related motifs by Hermann Pleuer are assembled in the Schloss Fachsenfeld collection, which is on permanent loan to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart’s Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. They demonstrate the artist’s strong and enduring preoccupation with this subject matter. Unusually for his days, Pleuer documented many different aspects of the railway and also recorded the effects of its development on both town and countryside.
A strong interest in the railway was widespread around 1900, and Pleuer’s treatment of the subject began in 1896. Previously, after studying art at the academies of Stuttgart (1881–83) and Munich (1883–86), he had concentrated mainly on portraits, interiors and landscapes, and indeed his first drawings and paintings of railway subjects developed out of his landscape work. Soon, however, he also began to depict the construction and technology of railways and trains.
In addition to rapidly executed sketches, Pleuer also produced meticulous, highly detailed studies and preliminary drawings for paintings. He made them in and around the repair workshops at Stuttgart’s Nordbahnhof (North Station) and the old Stuttgart Station – Pleuer had been granted open access to these premises by special permission. He was particularly interested in the different types of locomotives and the multiplicity of branching lines just outside the stations. The handling of the rail track system as main subject may be seen as something quite novel for that period.
In the urban setting Pleuer depicted the specific forms of architecture necessitated by the railway tracks – railway bridges, signal gantries, footbridges. Station interiors provided further subjects.
The highly documentary quality of Pleuer’s work – an aspect already appreciated by his contemporaries – is evident in the comparison of his drawings with models and historical documents.
Pleuer’s drawings and studies also provide valuable insight into his artistic method. He made rapid but precise sketches on the spot and then developed them further in his studio. There were particular motifs to which he returned again and again. It is thus possible to observe the process by which his paintings were executed. What becomes clear is that, although they seem to capture a passing moment, some of them were in fact the product of painstaking preparatory work.