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Historical painter, born in Bockenem, Hanover, 15 April, 1809; died in Düsseldorf, 27 Jan., 1885. Little is known concerning his early life. In 1828 he went to the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts to begin the study of art under Professor Wach, and was there so impressed by pictures of the Düsseldorf School that he placed himself under Schadow, the director of the Dusseldorf Academy. Deger, says Dr. Banz, "lived in religion, had a profound conviction of the nobility of his art, and painted what he felt, believed and hoped." He was only twenty-one when his "Pietà" brought him fame, and thenceforth he devoted himself to religious painting. In 1837 he went to Italy with Ittenbach and the Müller brothers to study the frescoes by the old masters in Florence and Rome. Overbeck, leader of the German pre-Raphaelites and head of the "Nazarene School", gave advice and encouragement to these young zealots, and Deger especially gained much from contact with this master; Deger was intrusted with the most important frescoes in the church of St. Apollinaris (Remagen), and, fully equipped after his four years' study, he returned from Rome in 1843 and began the work. In eight years he finished a noble series of paintings, representing the events in the life of Christ; these Apollinaris frescoes, the most remarkable productions of the "Nazarites", mark the zenith of the German school of religious painting, called by Cardinal Wiseman "the restorer of Christian taste throughout all Europe."
In 1851 Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, commissioned Deger to paint twelve scenes in the chapel of the castle of Stolzenfels (Coblenz), and for this Deger chose subjects illustrating the redemption of mankind. When this monumental work was finished, Deger settled permanently in Düsseldorf, commenced again to paint in oil, and spent the rest of his life on easel pictures, chiefly Madonnas. Of these the most beautiful are the idyllic "Madonna 'mid the Green" and the inspiring "Regina Cœli". He frequently visited Munich where he painted a "Virgin and Child" and an "Ascension" for the Maximilianeum of that city. In 1857 and 1859 two of his notable canvases, both religious subjects, were hung in the Paris Salon. Deger was made professor in the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, a member of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and, in 1869, professor in the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts. His style was vigorous, direct, and simple; his handling careful and precise; his drawing and power of characterization masterful; and his colour rich and harmonious. Deger exerted a powerful influence in ridding German art of its baroque element and in stimulating its votaries to poetry, loftiness, and profound conviction. Two of his notable works are "Adam and Eve", in the Raczynski Gallery, Berlin, and the "Virgin and Child", in St. Andrew's Chapel, Düsseldorf.
ATKINSON, School of Modern Art in Germany (London); BANZ, Ernst Deger, the Religious Painter in Benziger's Magazine (New York, Sept., 1907); VON KÖNIGSWINTER, Düsseldorfer Künstler (Leipzig, 1854); WIEGMAN, Die Kunstakademie zu Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, 1856).