Phillipp Otto Runge 

Portrait of Phillipp Otto Runge

Phillipp Otto Runge was a German painter, and colour theorist. He was born on 23rd July 1777 in Wolgast, Germany and died on 2nd December 1810 in Hamburg, Germany aged 33. 

Major Works

Times of Day” (1805)
“We Three”, “The Hülsenbeck Children” (1805)
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1806)
Portrait of Wilhelmina Sophia Helwig (1807)
“The Morning(1808)
“Lily of Light and Morning Star” (1808)
“Der Maler Und Schriftsteller Friedrich August Von Klinkowström” (1808)

Biography Timeline

Phillipp Otto Runge was born on 23rd July 1777 in Wolgast, West Pomerania, Germany then under Swedish rule. He was the ninth of eleven children. His father was a shipbuilder. Often sick as child he would frequently miss school. His mother taught him scissor cutting artwork which he practiced for the rest of his life.

1795: He begins working as a commercial apprentice in his older brother Daniel’s shipping company in Hamburg.

1797: He begins taking private drawing classes in Hamburg. 

1799: His brother pays for him to go to the Royal Danish Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark and he studies under Jens Juel. 

1801: He moves on to the Academy of Art in Dresden, Germany). There he meets a fellow painter Casper David Friedrich and the writers Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich von Schlegel. He is particularly interested in Tieck’s ideas on mysticism and the divine energy found in nature. He also meets his future wife Pauline Bassenge.

1803: He moves back to Hamburg and begins working on his cycle of drawings called “Times of Day”. On a visit to Weimar he bumps into Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the two discuss colour and art. He donates large-format engravings of the “Times of the Day” series to Goethe.

1804: On 3rd April he marries the sixteen-year-old Pauline in Dresden and the couple move to Hamburg. They go on to have four children.

1805: Due to the siege of Hamburg by Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops they escape and live with his parents in Wolgast. He publishes a limited edition set of “Times of Day”. He paints “We Three” and “The Hülsenbeck Children.

1806: He paints “The Artist’s Parents with Their Grandchildren” and finishes “Rest on the Flight into Egypt”. In July in a letter to Goethe he states there are only three colours, yellow, red, and blue.

1807: He returns to Hamburg and forms a new company with his brother Daniel. He develops the concept of the colour sphere by expanding the hue circle into a sphere. White and black form the two opposing poles.

1808: Although he wanted to reproduce the “Times of Day” series as oil paintings he only completes one, “Morning” (second version 1810). He also concentrates on religious landscapes and portraits. He publishes two of local fairy tales “The Fisherman and his Wife” and The Almond Tree” which are later included in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s book. He continues to experiment with colour disks.

1809: He completes the manuscript of “Farben-Kugel” (Colour Sphere). He paints a self-portrait and portraits of members of his family. He becomes ill with tuberculosis. 

1810: “Farben-Kugel” ,about his three-dimensional colour system, is published in Hamburg.

Phillipp Otto Runge died of tuberculosis on 2nd December 1810 in Hamburg, Germany. The last of his children was born on the day after his death. He was buried in the churchyard of Saint Peter in Hamburg but in 1935 his remains were moved to Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.