From his affinities for Rousseau, Goethe changed directions, and the work he did in the new capital of the Aufklärung, Weimar, established a uniquely German classicism. In the process, the ideologues of classicism at court drew on antiquity but also fostered a competitive relationship with their predecessors at Versailles. Goethe, who managed the library, theater, and opera, introduced Germans to the masterworks of French geniuses in literature, theater, music and painting. Odd writers of the French canon were rehabilitated (Rabelais) and innovative authors of the period were discovered (Diderot).
The social, ethical, and political thinking that resulted from the shock of the French Revolution was crystallized in Goethe’s play The Natural Daughter. Under the protectorate of the Confederation of the Rhine, Goethe met Napoleon (a great reader of Werther) in October 1808, and contemplated creating a portrait of him as Julius Caesar in homage to this genius of visionary and decisive action. And Faust, which he pursued from 1808 on, had a special resonance in France. Taking off from the many Goethean gems in the Collection, the exhibition shows the extent to which a complex and ambivalent “French question” deeply influenced Goethe’s output for some sixty years.
Curator: Jacques Berchtold