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Christoph Nathe

(1753 Nieder-Bielau near Görlitz – 1806 Schadewalde)

The Waterfall at Langhennersdorf on the Gottlaube. Watercolour, gouache and pen and dark brown ink over a light preliminary drawing in pencil. 23.7 x 18.8 cm. Ca.1795. Fröhlich Z 340.

For a long time Nathe was one of the more or less neglected talents of German drawing in the second half of the 18th century. Only recently has there been a growth of interest in this distinguished and sympathetic artist, who spent all his life working in self-imposed seclusion and was a pioneer of the German Romantic movement. An important contribution to a better understanding of Nathe has been made by the carefully researched monograph by Anke Fröhlich, "Einer der denkendsten Künstler unserer Zeit". Der Landschaftszeichner Christoph Nathe (1753–1806)Monographie und Werkverzeichnis der Handzeichnungen und Druckgraphik, Bautzen 2008 (to appear in print).

The View of the Waterfall at Langhennersdorf occupies a very special place in the artist’s graphic œuvre. As Nathe is not exactly known for such delicately executed watercolours, this intimate and enchanting nature study is of great rarity. The sheet was probably executed about 1795, the exact year being hard to pinpoint, as Nathe rarely dated his works. The picturesque waterfall of Langhennersdorf is located to the south-east of the Saxon town of Pirna in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, a region that Nathe often visited.

Nathe’s watercolour is remarkable in many ways, not least for its compositional density. On a small format a maximum of spontaneous, lively observation of nature is combined with atmospheric freshness. Nathe has viewed the waterfall, which is enclosed on both sides by leafy trees, from a low angle, showing the cool, foaming water rushing and splashing down the limestone wall as it seeks a way for itself over boulders and branches. The precise, almost reverential style of drawing testifies to the reflective manner in which Nathe always approached his work. For all the spontaneity nothing is left to chance and there is no hint of any genre elements. As so often in his work, nature is devoid of human presence, which induces a sense of pensive melancholy. The subtly rendered, autumnal colours enhance the romantic mood. While the bubbling water suggests impetuous vitality, the autumnal wood reminds us of the transience of life. Nathe’s observation goes beyond the mere registration of visible reality. His enigmatic and sensitive view of nature, which is already present in his early work, was ahead of its time. It would not be long before Caspar David Friedrich and other early German Romantic artists were to tread similar paths.

From the Strähnz Collection, Leipzig.

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