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Carl Russ

(1779–1843, Vienna)

Alexander Visits Diogenes. Etching on wove paper. 23.5 x 30.1 cm. 1811. Nagler 28; Griffiths/Carey (German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe) 54.

The Viennese painter and printmaker, Carl Russ, is a fascinating, unconventional artist, whose work reveals stylistic contradictions and a tendency towards eclecticism that are typical of European art in the period around 1800.

Russ studied under Christian Brand and Hubert Maurer at the Vienna Academy, where he specialised in historical genre painting. He received considerable stylistic inspiration from his acquaintance with Eberhard Wächter, who was active in Vienna from 1798 to 1808. Russ’s career took a fortunate turn with
his appointment as court painter to Archduke Johann in 1810. His patron commissioned him to paint a monumental cycle of historical pictures dedicated to the Habsburg royal dynasty. Thanks to the Archduke’s protection, he was promoted to the position of senior curator at the Belvedere Gallery in 1821.

Russ received a sound training as a printmaker at the Vienna Academy. His printed oeuvre, encompassing some forty etchings after his own compositions, dates to the turbulent years between 1807 and 1815, when the Napoleonic Wars raged in Europe. As an etcher, the artist is best known for his series of 19 prints entitled Ideas Worked in Copper by C. Russ, which was issued by Artaria, a famous publishing house in Vienna (Nagler 1–19). The series provides a vivid illustration of the artist’s wide-ranging and eclectic choice of subjects encompassing classical and mythological themes, religious scenes and episodes from Austrian history. In stylistic and thematic terms the etching Alexander Visits Diogenes represents a continuation of this cycle, although it was also published simultaneously as a separate print. The picturesque scene is treated with the creative originality and succinct narrative style that are the hallmarks of Russ’s work. The confidential dialogue between the powerful ruler Alexander and his antipode, the aged philosopher Diogenes, is astutely observed. The scene takes place at night-time in a wood outside the gates of the ancient city of Corinth. The pale light of the full moon conjures up an atmosphere of almost ghostly magic. No less spirited and varied is the sophisticated etching technique, which Russ employs with great skill. The richly differentiated, tightly packed hatching patterns bring about a subtle diffusion of light and a pronounced three-dimensional quality. Picturesque details of the vegetation and the stony terrain and genre items, such as the philosopher’s stick and drinking dish, are reproduced with great accuracy and loving devotion.

A superb, richly varied impression with thread margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent, unrestored condition.

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