Karl Friedrich Lessing, a German painter, grand-nephew of the preceding, born in War-tenberg, Silesia, Feb. 15, 1808. His father, an officer of the Prussian government, placed him when about 12 years of age in the gymnasium of Breslau, to study the natural sciences. Such was his backwardness in the ordinary academical studies, that at the end of two years his teachers advised the father to allow the boy to follow his predilection for art, and become a painter. He was accordingly sent to the architectural school of Berlin, to fit himself for an architect; but the instructions of Professors Rosel and Dahling aroused in him an invincible love for painting, and the production of his "Churchyard with Gravestones and Ruins " (1825) fixed his profession irrevocably. This picture produced a strong impression, and for a year or two the artist devoted himself to landscape; but coming under the influence of Schadow, he established himself in Dusseldorf, and studied historical painting with an enthusiasm and success which soon caused him to be considered the most promising pupil of the new German school of which that master was an exemplar.
Within a few years he produced a number of spirited works, including the cartoon of " The Battle of Iconium;" "The Castle by the Sea;" "The Mourning King and Queen," the head of the king being painted from that of Schadow; "The Robber;" "The Courtyard of the Convent, a Snow Scene," perhaps the most striking of all his landscapes; a " Scene from Lenore," etc. Subsequent to 1832 he entered upon a new style of treatment, substituting for the severe spirit in which his previous works had been conceived an earnest realism and an affluence of fancy which severed him completely from the school of Schadow, Veit, and their co-religionists. To landscape painting he also gave renewed attention, and some of his most imaginative works in this department of art, including his " Scene in the Eifel," are referred to this period of his life. "The Tyrant Ezzelinoin Captivity refusing the Exhortations of the Monks," exhibited in 1838, was his first important historical picture in the new style. It was followed by " Huss before the Council of Constance," "The Seizure of Pope Paschal II.," "The Martyrdom of Huss," and many others, under the influence of which the school of Dusseldorf has divested itself of the strictly Roman Catholic spirit by which it was previously characterized, and has adopted a bolder and more dramatic manner, and a greater freedom in the choice of subjects.
Lessing however is distinguished from his associates by depth of thought, energy of expression, and vivid dramatic conception, at the same time that his pictures exhibit the hardness of outline and defective coloring peculiar to the Dusseldorf school. In 1858 he was appointed by the grand duke of Baden director of the gallery of paintings at Carlsruhe. Since that time he has painted a number of landscapes and portraits, among the latter those of the grand duke and many members of the court; and since 1866 he has been engaged on a large composition representing the disputation between Luther and Eck at Leipsic in 1519.