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Christian August Günther

(1759 Pirna – 1924 Dresden)

Characteristic Portrayal of Trees as an Exercise for Draughtsmen, Painters and Engravers Studying Landscape ... Title page in French and German, 12 etchings printed in black, 12 etchings with aquatint in brown, each measuring approx. 23.1 x 18.5 cm (sheet size). In original half-leather binding. Published by Friedrich August Leo, Leipzig, 1802.

This charming study guide for landscape artists from the hand of the Saxon painter, draughtsman and printmaker Christian August Günther was not known to earlier authors such as Nagler or Heller-Andresen and is extremely rare. The bilingual title page indicates that the booklet was intended not only for a German, but also for an international readership, although it appears that only a few copies came into circulation. The French title page mentions with a suggestion of patriotic pride that most of the tree species dealt with are “German”.

With remarkable artistic subtlety Günther has portrayed a selection of deciduous and coniferous trees, including oak, fir, weeping willow, birch and beech. The various trees are shown in two versions: one as a pure etching, the other as an aquatint in brown. The aquatint sheets, in particular, are of a high artistic standard that goes beyond the didactic purpose. Günther’s mastery of the technique is considerable. In the case of the outline etchings the artist has been at pains to achieve as objective a rendering of the trees as possible, while the aquatints are carefully composed and highly diversified views of nature. The fine grain of the aquatint creates ultra-soft tonal transitions and a subtle chiaroscuro effect. The trees appear in a mild elegiac light. In some scenes nature appears motionless, while in the others the trees’ foliage is tossed by stormy winds, which heightens the Romantic mood.

Christian August Günther studied under Adrian Zingg at the Dresden Academy. He became a boarder in 1789 and in 1810 a member of the Academy, being promoted to professor there in 1815. Günther distinguished himself mainly in the field of landscape painting, taking his inspiration sometimes from nature and sometimes from literary sources, such as Gessner’s Idyllen, Ossian and Fénelon. He found the motifs for his landscape art in his Saxon homeland, especially the environs of Dresden and the picturesque region known as Saxon Switzerland. He also created several sets of prints, including the Pitoreskische Reisen durch Sachsen (1798), that testify to his topographical explorations.

Superb, finely differentiated impressions, printed on the full sheet. Slightly foxed in places, the binding showing signs of ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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