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Otto Geleng, born in Berlin to a noble family from Lower Saxony, studied painting and drawing from his youth, and graduated from the Royal Accademia of Fine Arts.
It was here at the Accademia that his teacher, Biermann, inspired Geleng to visit Taormina after showing his students images from his trip to Sicily. Geleng knew that once he completed his studies, he would visit those places to see these magnificent views first-hand. He was not disappointed.
What started off as a short exploratory visit quickly turned into a full-on commitment to make this enchanting place his new home. This decision was based upon not only his passion for the beauty of the land, but also, and even more so, for the love of a local woman named Filomena Zuccaro. Together they started the Geleng Family, a dynasty of painters that still stands out in the art world today through its successors.
It is without a doubt that this romantic painter launched the transformation of Taormina from a small village into a destination tourist town.
Story has it that Taormina’s rise to fame started from a bet. Someone had challenged the truth of Geleng’s painting, doubting that such a glorious landscape could exist. The bet was that if the artist could take this person directly to the location where the painting was created, and demonstrate that such beauty indeed was real, the challenger would then pay for the expenses of the artist’s accommodations once they were verified.
Geleng’s landscapes depicted dream-like places without a season, almond trees in bloom and olive trees as far as the eye can see, a smoking snow-capped volcano and sometimes even in eruption! A boundless sea on the horizon, with changing plays of light from dawn to dusk. Taormina, the Island in the Sky as my dear friend and journalist Toto Roccuzzo described it.
Geleng won the bet and from that moment on, the tourist flow from all over Europe began.
Interestingly, while many of Geleng’s works exhibited in some of the most important galleries in Germany and France to arouse a lot of interest among visitors, there still exists several disputes and doubts among art critics and colleagues that his subject matters were merely the result of his romantic impressions based solely on the imagination of the painter.
In his workshop gallery he taught the art of painting to his children and exhibited his works experimenting with the Macchiaiola technique.
Through his experience and advice, Geleng became a moderator, a trait d’union, between the small town that had to adapt quickly to the modern world and the ever-growing tourists visiting a territory made of breathtaking landscapes.
We appreciate in this watercolor the bucolic representation of the landscape. The charm of the Greek Theatre of Taormina in contrast to the wild vegetation. The meticulousness of the details in portraying the much-loved Taormina and the majesty of snowy Etna.
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