Painting Goethe’s Faust: 3 Auerbach’s Tavern and lust

James Tissot (1836–1902), Faust Meets Marguerite (study) (c 1860), oil on canvas, 15.5 x 22 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

His pact made with Mephistopheles, Faust flies in company with the devil to Auerbach’s Tavern in Leipzig.

Surprisingly, Auerbach’s Tavern was and is a real location, one of the oldest bars in the German city of Leipzig. When Goethe was a student at the university there between 1765-68, it was his favourite wine bar, and had two paintings showing the original legend of Faust, which were made in about 1625.

Artist not known, Faust and his Dog, with Students in Auerbach’s Tavern in Leipzig (c 1625), oil on wood, 130 x 200 cm, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

This anonymous painting of Faust and his Dog, with Students in Auerbach’s Tavern in Leipzig is one of the pair with which Goethe was familiar. It shows an episode from the legendary life of Johann Georg Faust, on which Goethe based his play. The group is seen drinking and singing to the accompaniment of four musicians.

The inscription at the top reads: VIVE, BIBE, OBRAECARE, MEMOR FAUSTUS HUJUS ET HUJUS POENAE. ADERAT CLAUDO HAEC – ASTERAT AMPLA – GRADU. 1525. This means “Live, drink, be merry, but remember Faust here and his punishment. It came slowly, but was terrible.”

Hans Best (1874–1942), Goethe’s Faust (1913), mural, dimensions not know, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1913, just before the First World War, Hans Best painted this scene from Goethe’s Faust as a mural for Auerbach’s Tavern when it was undergoing extensive renovation. This follows Goethe’s account, with no large black dog, and Mephistopheles trying to bring order to the seditious students.

Scene eight opens in the Tavern, with a group of drinkers making merry. Some are acting foolishly, one pouring a glass of wine over another’s head, others singing satyrical verse and irreverent ballads. When Faust and Mephistopheles enter, they are welcomed as travellers. Mephistopheles does the talking, and is soon singing an allegory about a flea.

Mephistopheles complains about the poor quality of the wine, and shows the group how to tap into the landlord’s barrels of wine by making wood stoppers. They are all gleefully indulging in this free wine when Faust announces that he’d like to leave. Mephistopheles tells him to wait for the drinkers’ real bestiality to come to the surface.

An argument erupts leading the group to advance on Mephistopheles with daggers drawn; he is forced to cast a spell to settle them down. Mephistopheles takes Faust away in a rush, leaving the drinkers wondering what had happened.

The pair then visit a witch’s kitchen in an effort to make Faust young once more. As they arrive, Faust is complaining about resorting to magic again, and expressing his doubts.

Mephistopheles offers Faust an alternative which he says will make him young: to go and live out in the country, with the livestock there, as a primitive. Faust rejects that idea, and accepts the offer of the witch’s brew. However, the witch is out at the moment, so they engage in banter with the witch’s assistants, a couple of baboons, before the witch suddenly descends through the chimney.

Margret Hofheinz-Döring (1910–1994), A Witch Comes Through the Chimney Scene (1960), mixed media, 20 x 42 cm, Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen. Image by Peter Mauch, courtesy of Margret Hofheinz-Döring/ Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen, via Wikimedia Commons.

Margret Hofheinz-Döring shows this in A Witch Comes Through the Chimney Scene, painted in 1960.

At first, the witch doesn’t recognise Mephistopheles. When he points out who he is, she rejoices and calls him Lord Satan, which he dislikes.

Margret Hofheinz-Döring (1910–1994), Mephisto and the Witch (1960), watercolour and gouache, 20 x 42 cm, Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen. Image by Peter Mauch, courtesy of Margret Hofheinz-Döring/ Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hofheinz-Döring’s watercolour of Mephisto and the Witch from 1960 shows the devil on the right, and the witch with cats at her feet.

Mephistopheles asks the witch for her rejuvenating potion, which she produces in a bottle. She then draws a magic circle, puts objects within it, and arranges the baboons inside too. She utters her spell, which Faust finds incredible, and Faust drinks.

Artist not known, Faust’s Rejuvenation (The Witch’s Kitchen) (date not known), oil on canvas, 57 x 70 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

This anonymous and undated painting of Faust’s Rejuvenation (The Witch’s Kitchen) shows Mephistopheles watching at the right as the sceptical Faust stands inside the witch’s magic circle.

As Mephistopheles makes their farewell, he invites the witch to join him in celebrating Walpurgis Night. He makes a final aside to the audience to explain that the elixir will make every woman appear irresistably attractive to Faust, who has already been ogling the witch herself.

The next scene is set on a street back in Faust’s home town. He sees a young woman on that street whom he fancies, and offers to take her arm and accompany her. She abruptly decines.

James Tissot (1836–1902), Faust Meets Marguerite (study) (c 1860), oil on canvas, 15.5 x 22 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

The best-known painting of the introduction of Gretchen into Goethe’s play is that by James Tissot in the Musée d’Orsay. I haven’t been able to locate an image of that work, Faust Meets Marguerite, which dates from 1860, but above is a signed study for it by Tissot. This is the first oil study that I have seen by Tissot, whose finished works are so tightly detailed and smooth. This is decidedly painterly.

Peter von Cornelius (1783–1867), Faust and Gretchen (1811), illustration, further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Peter von Cornelius’ very early illustration of Faust and Gretchen from 1811 captures the moment well, with Mephistopheles lurking in the background.

Faust is smitten by the girl. When Mephistopheles arrives, he tells his ‘servant’ that he wants that girl. Mephistopheles had been listening to the girl’s confession, tells Faust that she is young and innocent, and that he has no power over her as a result.

Faust isn’t happy at this, insisting that Mephistopheles arrange for her to be in his arms that evening, or their pact is void. Mephistopheles says that it isn’t so easy, and he will need a couple of weeks to discover how to get at her. Faust is unhappy at this, insisting that without the devil’s help, he could seduce her in an afternoon.

Mephistopheles offers to take Faust to the girl’s room that day, to assuage Faust’s impatient lust. Faust agrees, and says that he will take her a present.

That evening, Faust starts his campaign to seduce the young Gretchen, with Mephistopheles his aide.