56. EUGENE VON GUÉRARD
The present work may be the work exhibited by Eugene von Guérard at the 1849 Annual Exhibition of the Art Association of Rhineland-Westphalen, Düsseldorf, as No. 22, Italienische Landschaft, Composition . The painting, as noted in the art news of the Düsseldorfer Journal und Kreisblatt 198, 19 August 1849, was purchased by lottery by shipyard owner and prominent businessman Franz Haniel of Ruhrort. It is likely, but not conclusively verifiable, that the present work is the Italienische Landschaft, Composition, exhibited in Düsseldorf in 1849.
Eugene von Guérard spent almost thirteen years, from late 1838 until mid-1852, in the dynamic art city of Düsseldorf. Between 1840 and 1843 he studied landscape painting under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer (1807-1863) at the internationally renowned Düsseldorf Academy. At this time, a trip to Italy was regarded as virtually mandatory for any serious landscape painter. Von Guérard, who had spent the previous twelve years travelling and sketching in Italy, was in an enviable position on his arrival in Düsseldorf. His eleven sketchbooks, full of drawings made in the Roman campagna, Naples, Capri, Sicily and more, provided the artist with invaluable content for the many Italian subjects he painted in his Düsseldorf studio.
The site portrayed in Italian Landscape cannot be identified in any of the five extant sketchbooks, and while it is possible that it might appear in one of the six, now missing, books, it is more likely that this work does not depict a specific location; it is almost certainly a ‘landscape composition’, an invented or ideal composition.
Von Guérard was actively involved in experimenting with such ‘compositions’ in the 1840s. A sketchbook from his Düsseldorf years reveals that in the late 1840s he participated in one of the composition societies which formed following the model established by Schirmer and fellow landscape painter Karl Friedrich Lessing (1808-1880). Von Guérard’s sketchbook XVIII, which he used between 1847 and 1851, was dedicated to ‘compositions’ drawn on ‘winter evenings’ in Düsseldorf. Most date from 1848-49 and are drawn from the artist’s memories of Italy: some are even inscribed ‘Erinnerungen’ [Memories]. Rather than accurately record a specific location, the aim of these drawings was to capture the essential character of a place, such as the Roman campagna or the Neapolitan coast, in the form of a resolved and poetically inspiring composition. Elements and landscape motifs that relate to his Italian Landscape can be found in a number of the drawings in von Guérard’s book of compositions.1
The composition of von Guérard’s Italian Landscape, like many in his book of compositions, reflects the influence of seventeenth-century classical landscape models. From the foreground, with its stand of trees on the left and the pile of massive stone blocks – perhaps the remains of an ancient bridge – on the right, the eye is directed along a winding path into the middle distance and towards the lake, centered in the composition and framed by mountains. Von Guérard’s understanding of Italian light and atmosphere, absorbed during his formative years in Italy, informs this work, notably in the warmth of the late afternoon sun – a time of day favoured by von Guérard – and the blue haze over the distant mountains. Birds wheeling in the airy sky. The palette, of soft airy blues tinged with pink, olive greens and ochres, is enlivened by the touch of red of the seated figure’s jacket and the terracotta tones of the tiles on the hilltop villa. The prevailing mood established by the composition, light and palette, continues with the narrative of peasants gathering at the end of the day’s work, in perfect harmony with their idyllic setting.
Typically von Guérard has incorporated his signature, here a monogram inscribed on the face of the rock in the lower right, into the landscape itself.
1. Eugene von Guérard, Volume 07: Sketchbook XVIII, Düsseldorf, 1847-1852, 1855, Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, DGB14, vol. 7
Dr Ruth Pullin