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karl blechen
(1798 Cottbus – 1840 Berlin)

A Fountain in a Park. Black and white chalk on brownish laid paper. 27.2 x 21.8 cm. Signed and dated in the lower margin: Blechen del. d. 6 December 1831. Paul Ortwin Rave, Karl Blechen, Leben, Würdigungen, Werk, Berlin 1940, No. 1802.

On 20 November 1829, Karl Blechen returned to Berlin after two years of travelling in Italy. In his luggage he had countless drawings and sketchbooks containing oil sketches of landscapes and studies that had been done from nature on the various stages of his journey, constituting a rich font of ideas for paintings, to which he later resorted in his Berlin studio.

The present drawing was produced almost exactly two years after Blechen’s return home, probably at one of the evening sessions of the Berlinische Künstlerverein. Perhaps Blechen’s thoughts had drifted off, far from the bleak aspect of a Prussian winter, to wander through the balmy regions of Italy to the Gulf of Naples, the coast of Liguria or the Campagna near Rome. The southern influence is clearly perceptible in this study of a fountain in a park depicted with flowing lines. Blechen had used this fountain motif more than once in the drawings of his Italian period. He had been particularly inspired by one of the most famous sights in the environs of Rome: the park of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, with all its many waterworks, prompted Blechen to make numerous sketches (Rave, op. cit., nos. 869–877). The shell fountain with the high jet, the central motif in our drawing, is a clear reminiscence of the fountains which line the main avenue of that park. There, too, a mighty jet spurts up from the elegantly shaped shell, which stands in a shallow basin designed to catch the overflowing water. While the fountains of the Villa d’Este, together with the cypresses and the symmetrically arranged paths, give the park a clear structure, this one has been detached from its original context and surrounded by an overgrown landscape (figures 1 and 2). The fountain stands in front of a group of tall, largely indeterminate trees, which form a dark backdrop for the foaming water, sparkling in the light. A tangle of roots and tendrils sketched with resolute lines is spread out in the foreground, which gives the composition spatial depth. Some distance away in the right background, a traveller is reclining in contemplative pose, leaning with his arm on a mound of earth. The small scale of this figure makes the fountain and the surrounding vegetation seem larger.

This capriccio created from memory conveys a perfect picture of Blechen’s skills as a landscape painter. His means of artistic expression are very varied and range from the accurately sketched undergrowth to the almost abstract, blurry mass of the wall of trees in the background. Blechen’s sketches and studies were admired by contemporaries during his lifetime. Recommended by Karl Friedrich Schinkel "on account of his very ingenious way of capturing nature", Blechen was appointed to the Chair of Landscape Painting at Berlin’s Kunstakademie in September 1831. The next year Blechen caused a sensation at the Berlin Academy Exhibition with his Park of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli (Rave 869). In view of the parallel motifs – the shell fountain – it may be that our drawing is to be seen in the context of the execution of this large-format painting. A mental digression of Blechen’s, so to speak: from the veduta-like panoramic view of the painting to the intimate, poetic impression of our landscape drawing. Both works, however, are visions of one Romantic image of Italy.

Provenance: Berlinischer Künstlerverein.