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Carl Joseph Aloys Agricola

(1779 Säckingen – 1852 Vienna)

The Muse Erato and a Nymph. Watercolour, gouache and pen and greyish-brown ink over graphite. 19 x 24 cm. Signed, dated and inscribed: “Carl Agricola del. Karlsruhe d. 23 März 1811”.

Having begun his artistic training in Karlsruhe, the painter and engraver, Carl Agricola, left around 1798 for Vienna, where he studied at the Academy under Heinrich Füger. He spent the rest of his life in the city, earning himself a considerable repu­tation as a portraitist and, above all, as a painter of miniature watercolour portraits.

In stylistic terms, Agricola remained faithful to the elegant clas­sicism of his teacher Füger. The present watercolour provides a vivid illustration of the artist’s astonishing technical skills. The two delightful young women are rendered in an intricate, detailed and subtly coloured watercolour technique. The woman on the right with the handsome classical profile and a wreath on her head is undoubtedly Erato, the muse of love poetry. The young, nymph-like girl on the left listens enraptured and gazes at the observer with a faraway look, her delicate hands held in front of her chest in a gesture of humility. The artist has brilliantly captured the aristocratic pallor of her complexion and the delicate touches of redness in the faces of the two women.

Despite the noble, classical-style subject matter and the shy restraint of the young nymph the scene is invested with a latent eroticism fully in keeping with the fashion of the time. Far from concealing her physical charms, the diaphanous slip she wears affords a candid look at her delicate, maidenly breast.

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