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Landscape with Ruins and Figures. Grisaille on paper, mounted on handmade cardboard. 20.3 x 15.9 cm.
The painter and etcher Franz de Paula Ferg received his initial artistic training from his father, Adam Pankratz Ferg, and subsequently studied under Georg Andreas Washuber, Hans Graf and Joseph Orient. Ferg’s chequered career epitomizes that of a peripatetic minor master who tried his luck in various European towns. Ferg left Vienna in 1718 and later spent time in Bamberg and Leipzig, where he made the acquaintance of Johann Alexander Thiele, whom he accompanied to Dresden and for whose landscapes he provided the staffage. In 1720, after a sojourn in northern Germany, the artist went to London, where he produced landscapes with ruins, seascapes and genre scenes.
The present oil grisaille is a rare example of Ferg’s landscape art. Judging by the stylistic and thematic analogies with a suite of etchings by Ferg with the title Capricci fatti per F.F. (Heller-Andresen 1), it was probably produced in London in 1726. A comparable group of studies in the same technique is in Vienna (see Beschreibender Katalog der Handzeichnungen in der Graphischen Sammlung Albertina, published by A. Stix, Vienna 1933, vol. IV, p. 165, nos. 2026–2033). Ferg preferred small formats, and his capriccios are carefully and imaginatively composed, being distinguished by a miniature-like fineness of treatment. Very characteristic is his predilection for repoussoir figures shown from behind, which reinforce the sense of depth. After initial successes Ferg allegedly died a pauper in London. Such a fate could not have been due to lack of talent. The brushwork in this grisaille is very skilful and fluid. The striking tree stump, the picturesque ruins and the faintly clouded sky are rendered suggestively and atmospherically, while the accurate use of heightening generates a delicate, vibrant light effect that enhances the idyllic mood of the scene.