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Anselm Feuerbach

(1829 Speyer – 1880 Venice)

Drapery study for "Iphigenia". Black chalk, heightened with white, on grayish green paper. 39.5 x 26.8 cm. Inscribed: "Iphigenie". Circa 1862.

This very subtly executed drapery study arose about 1862 in Rome as a preliminary work for the first version of Iphigenia (Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum). The model was Anna Risi, a cobbler’s wife who embodied Feuerbach’s classical ideal of beauty and was his mistress for some years. Iphigenia is an important early work of Feuerbach’s Roman phase and his first purely classical painting, which takes up the nostalgia motif and expresses his striving for an idealistic style of painting inspired by classical antiquity.

Feuerbach used to prepare his paintings in a very conscientious manner, drawing numerous compositional and detail sketches in order to arrive at a mature conception. The artist was constantly plagued by doubts about his own skill and consequently destroyed many such studies. Feuerbach’s talent as a draughtsman emerged at an early age. At the Düsseldorf Academy and later in Munich he strove to develop his drawing style through relentless practice. In 1852 Feuerbach’s search for graphic perfection made him decide to study under Thomas Couture in Paris. In Couture’s studio the emphasis was on systematic and single-minded drawing from nature, and Feuerbach’s drawing technique was considerably refined under the latter’s guidance, as the present study shows. The effective combination of black and white chalk and the use of coloured paper are stylistic elements that Feuerbach learned from Couture and was thereafter to use in most of his studies. This sketch clearly demonstrates how devoted and focused Feuerbach was in his struggle for formal perfection. It is a detailed study for the drapery beneath Iphigenia’s right arm, which in the painted version makes a softer and more flowing impression. Feuerbach has used a sharp pencil to trace the outlines of the drapery and a refined stumping technique to achieve wonderfully soft transitions, while the white highlights effectively bring out the gentle play of light on the material.

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