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Wolfgang Adam Toepfer
(1766 Geneva – 1847 Morillon)

Tree Study. Pen and brown ink over pencil, water­colour. 26.4 x 17 cm.

This study from nature is notable for the simplicity of its vision and the appealing mise-en-page. The artist has rendered the lifelike texture of the weathered tree trunks with great economy of means. The damp moss clinging to the trunk of the beech tree on the left forms a decorative surface pattern, while the bark of the oak tree on the right is depicted in linear fashion. A fluid watercolour technique has been used to portray the thin branches and fresh leaves, while the terrain in the background is cursorily delineated. The reduced palette with its subtle blend of cool green, brown and grey tones gives the modest study sheet a special attraction. The whole scene testifies to an objectivistic view of nature in which the artist attempts to capture the essence of what he has seen as accurately as possible.

In his early years the Swiss painter, Wolfgang Adam Toepfer, was active in Geneva and Lausanne. In the late 1780s he underwent further training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was taught watercolour painting by Jean-Thomas Thibault. After returning to Geneva Toepfer first worked as a drawing teacher and portraitist, after which he devoted himself to his true vocation as a landscape painter. This he did at the sugges­tion of his artist friend, Pierre-Louis de la Rive, with whom he explored his native landscape, thus becoming one of the precursors of plein air painting. In the early 19th century Toepfer’s art was well known to a wider public. His noble clients included Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia and the French Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, to whom he gave drawing lessons in 1807. Wolfgang Toepfer was the father of the famous novelist and caricaturist, Rodolphe Toepfer (1799–1846).