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karl ritter von blaas
(1815 Nauders – 1894 Vienna)

An Old Wall and Wooden Fence. Pencil and watercolour. 24.5 x 30.5 cm. Circa 1840. Verso with estate stamp.

This sensitive and astutely observed study of a crumbling wall and simple wooden fence reveals a lesser known aspect of the work of the historical painter, Karl Ritter von Blaas. A man of humble origins, the financial support von Blaas received from a titled relative in 1832 enabled him to begin his art studies at the Academy in Venice, where he soon achieved his first successes as a historical painter. In 1837 he received a grant from the Vienna Academy to study for five years in Rome, where he made the acquaintance of Friedrich Overbeck and associated with the Nazarenes. It was during his stay in Italy that he established his reputation as an artist. In the 1840s von Blaas distinguished himself as a painter of religious subjects, advancing to become a portrait painter popular with Roman aristocrats and, in particular, noble clients from Austria-Hungary, Russia and England. For all the stylistic inspiration of the Nazarenes, the Roman costume and genre scenes that von Blaas painted in the course of the decade consistently maintained their realistic traits. Following his appointment to the Vienna Academy, von Blaas settled in August 1851 in the Austrian capital, where he began a highly acclaimed and productive career as a painter of portraits and historical scenes.

The present work was probably completed during his time in Rome. In 1839, von Blaas undertook a journey on foot through Umbria, which was to be followed over the next ten years by numerous excursions into the Roman Campagna and travels to Palermo and Naples. The study, drawn from nature in one of the picturesque villages around Rome, illustrates von Blaas’ fundamentally realistic attitude. Demonstrating brilliant draughtsmanship and a refined sense of colour, the artist succeeds in capturing the essence of his simple and modest subject. The vibrant texture of the weathered old wall contrasts delightfully with the subdued grey and brown hues of the fence and simple wooden bench and with the autumnal shades of the leaves. The outcome is a picture full of meditative tranquility which reminds the beholder of the transience of all earthly things.