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Half-length portrait of a young man wearing a cap, his head slightly inclined to one side and his gaze directed upwards. Red chalk. 45.3 x 45.1 cm. Circa 1737–1743.
The outstanding feature of this impressive portrait study in an almost square format is its extremely vivid observation. The young man with his full, still boyish face inclines his head a little shyly to the right as he looks inquisitively at the draughtsman studying him from above. The simple clothing he wears and the plain woollen cap covering the curls of his hair indicate that he is from a modest background.
The artist did not regard drawings of this kind as mere finger exercises. On the contrary, they were clearly intended as works of art in their own right. The author of this portrait study, Georg Friedrich Schmidt from Schönerlinde near Berlin, produced a series of such sensitively observed portraits which were evidently designed to render as realistically as possible the character or frame of mind of the person portrayed. His interest in character portrayal was undoubtedly inspired by the art theory ideas of his time. The artist’s lavish, masterful application of the red chalk technique reveals the influence of contemporary French models. From 1737 to 1743 Schmidt lived and worked in Paris, where he associated with artists such as Nicolas de Larmessin and Hyacinthe Rigaud. He was friends with Johann Georg Wille and comes very close to his style in several of the portrait drawings he made. In May 1742 he was appointed a member of the Académie Royale by royal order even though he was of Protestant origins. Having spent several years in
St. Petersburg, Schmidt returned to Berlin, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.