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Adolf Senff

(1785 Halle – 1863 Ostrau)

Study sheet with mimosas, a tulip, two irises, pomegranate blossoms and convolvuli. Oil on greyish-brown, grounded firm paper. 55.3 x 40.3 cm. Signed and inscribed: “Adolf Senff. Rom.”, four dates of individual plants: “d. 12. Apr”, “16. Apr“, “18. Apr (18)27” and “20. Apr. 27” and inscribed “Milanthrum” at the bottom right.

This magnificent, reverent nature study is a masterpiece by Adolf Senff, a painter who hailed from Halle in Saxony. Senff initially trained to become a theologian in Leipzig and was subsequently employed in Dresden as a private tutor to the family of Gerhard von Kügelgen, a painter of portraits and historical scenes, who gave him art lessons. In 1813/14 Senff was active as a portrait painter in Leipzig and then offered to serve as a volunteer in the Wars of Liberation against Napoleonic France. He spent most of his artistic life in Rome, where he joined the circle around Bertel Thorvaldsen and earned his living by painting flowers and copying works by Raphael. After 1848 the artist lived and worked in Ostrau near Halle.

The charm of this large-sized sheet lies in the delightful and very harmonious mise-en-page. Although the individual blossoms are observed from different angles and are distributed loosely – seemingly spontaneously – across the sheet, they none­theless form an attractive and visually compelling composi­tional whole. The finely nuanced, greyish-brown background effectively brings out the intense colours of the blossoms and the fresh greens of the stems and leaves. Bearing in mind the individual dates in the inscription, the artist must have taken a week to complete the picture, which gives an indication of Senff’s enormous, almost reverential concentration. This loving attention to the smallest of details and to the specific quality of each plant does not appear in any way over-meticulous, how­ever. The depiction radiates a confident capaciousness and a refreshing eye for the essentials. In its symbiosis of profound interest in natural science and artistic sensitivity Senff’s crea­tion is reminiscent of the plant studies of his great predecessor Albrecht Dürer.

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