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Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich

(known as Dietricy, 1712 Weimar – 1774 Dresden)

Itinerant Musicians. Pen and brown ink over a light preliminary drawing in graphite. 24.6 x 19.4 cm. Circa 1745. Signed “CWE Dietricy Inventor a la Gusto di Ostade” at the bottom right.

The present rapidly and skilfully executed pen-and-ink-drawing served as the first idea for the 1745 painting Itinerant Musicians now in the National Gallery in London (oil on wood, 43.3 x 33 cm, inv. no. NG 205). The drawing may appear sketch-like, but the idea for the picture is already surprisingly well deve­l­oped. The composition of the finished painting differs in only a few minor respects from the pen-and-ink drawing, for example the position of the violinist’s hand, the completed arch and the symbol on the sign hanging in the background. Dietricy also produced an etching on the same subject (Linck 80), reproducing the composition in reverse. He evidently also decided to change a number of details when transferring the motif to the print medium. The figure of a man in the background seen from behind, which is present in both the drawing and the painting, is missing in the etching, for instance. Johann Georg Wille, one of Dietricy’s friends, also later made an engraving after his composition, which Nagler says is one of the artist’s masterpieces (Nagler 156). In stylistic and iconographical terms the composition is deeply indebted to Adriaen van Ostade, whom the artist has deliberately mentioned in his annotation, stating that he has worked “a la Gusto di Ostade”.

Dietricy’s corpus of paintings, drawings and prints is a classic illustration of the untroubled eclecticism of his time. It also documents the first signs during the artist’s lifetime of a return to, and fresh appreciation of, Golden Age Dutch art, especially paintings by Rembrandt and Ostade. Dietricy embraced the stylistic idioms of the different 17th and 18th century schools and assimilated in his work both the influences of the Dutch Italianates and the inspiration provided by Rubens, Watteau, Titian, Ricci and Rosa. Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich received his initial artistic tuition from his father, Johann Georg, a painter and printmaker at the court in Weimar. He subsequently enrolled at the Dresden Academy, where he studied under the landscape painter, Alexander Thiele. The latter recommended his pupil to the Elector of Saxony, Augustus II the Strong, to whom Dietrich became court painter in 1731. Two years later the artist, who had called himself Dietricy since the 1730s, undertook a one-year study trip to Italy. In 1748, Dietrich was appointed Inspector of the Dresden Art Gallery, a development which coincided with a very productive period in his artistic work. A further honourable appoint­ment followed in 1763, when Dietrich was offered a professorship at the Dresden Academy.

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