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Genre, Bookworm in His Library, Carl Spitzweg, Antique Print, Early 20th C.


Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885) (after)
The Bookworm
Continental: Early 20th Century
Hand-colored etching
Signed in pencil by etcher, lower right
14.75 x 9.75 inches, plate mark
21 x 15.5 inches, overall

This popular image of a contemplative elderly gentleman standing on a ladder in a library, with books tucked under his arm and between his legs, was often engraved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is still sold as posters today. The original painting was created in 1850, one of three versions painted by Carl Spitzweg, although the library decor and man’s clothing are those typical of the second half of the 18th century. The version this print was based on was acquired by a Milwaukee industrialist who donated it to the Milwaukee Public Library. It is now on permanent loan to the Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it is one of over 20 works by Spitzweg in the collection. The museum has posted an online article about its Spitzweg collection, including details about this particular work:

Spitzweg called it Librarian, but the 19th century German public called it The Bookworm. The term is derisive, and was used to describe someone who has eaten his way through books, and is laughed at for being a bookish but unrealistic person. Whether Spitzweg wanted viewers to associate this type of person is unclear for he did not title it Bookworm, although he undoubtedly could have. […] Here, written works become part of the librarian’s physical existence, making him a “bookish” person in the real sense of the word. He is reading in the “Metaphysics” section of a large library.

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Carl (sometimes spelled “Karl”) Spitzweg, was a Munich-born German genre painter best known for his paintings reflecting, with sympathetic humor, aspects of middle-class German life in the 19th century.


“Carl Spitzweg in Milwaukee.” Google Arts and Culture.¬† (2 May 2022).

Additional information


20th Century