Josef Madlener

From Tolkien Gateway
Der Berggeist as pictured in the postcard by Josef Madlener

Josef Madlener (April 16, 1881December 27, 1967) was a German artist and poet.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Josef Madlener, born as a farmer's son in the Bavarian village Amending (today a district of Memmingen), attended a School of Art and Applied arts. Later he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

His pictures often show folksy or religious scenes. His style was impressionistic and in the same way symbolic, too. His works were published in several newspapers and magazines. He wrote some Christmas stories for children. Madlener's Christmas pictures were published in post card series, too.[1]

Josef Madlener had one known daughter, named Julie Madlener (19101999).[2]

Origin of Gandalf[edit | edit source]

In 1935 the Bavarian fine art publisher F.A. Ackermann published a series of post cards under the title Sagen und Märchen (Legends and Fairy tales). The series contained six reproductions of folkloristic paintings:

  • Der Frühling Kommt (Spring is coming),
  • Die Bergfee (The Mountain-fairy),
  • Rübezahl,
  • Waldmärchen (Forest fairy tales),
  • Hubertushirsch (Saint Hubert's Hart)

and finally the reproduction of Der Berggeist ("The Mountain-spirit"), that J.R.R. Tolkien likened to the character of Gandalf the wizard.

Humphrey Carpenter tells in his Biography of the author, that Tolkien kept this post card safe and later wrote 'Origin of Gandalf' on the card's envelope.[3]

Though Carpenter speculates, that Tolkien bought the post card already in his summer holidays 1911, when he was in Switzerland. This speculation is incorrect: as explained by Manfred Zimmermann, the post card version of Der Berggeist was published in the late twenties. Interviewing the daughter of the artist (born 1910), she gives the painting's date of origin also later, as she can remember when his father was painting it.[4]

The original painting came to America after World War II, where it was later rediscovered. In 2005 it was sold at Sotheby's for £84000.[5]

Tolkien purchased at least one other Madlener postcard published by Ackermann's: "Heilige Familie" (Holy Family), which he sent to Katherine Kilbride on 24 December 1938.

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien; Douglas A. Anderson, (ed.), (2002) The Annotated Hobbit: Revised and Expanded Edition, "Chapter I: An unexpected Party", p. 38f
  2. Biographical data in a brief description of Das goldene Buch on (German, accessed 21 July 2023)
  3. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, "II. 1892-1916: Early years", p. 51
  4. Mythlore 34 (1983), Manfred Zimmermann, "The Origin of Gandalf and Josef Madlener", pp. 22-24
  5. "Lot 423: Der Berggeist" dated 12 July 2005, Sotheby's (accessed 21 July 2023)