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Portrait of a Young Woman Sleeping. Red chalk. 37.8 x 28 cm. Inscribed on the verso in an old hand and numbered: “Schmuzer .. No 228.”
Jakob Matthias Schmutzer was an indefatigable draughtsman who honed his skills through strict discipline and daily practice. Consequently, a large number of the head and figure studies he produced over a period of forty years from the 1760s to 1805 have survived. Most of these sheets are executed in red chalk, a drawing medium especially popular in France. Schmutzer learned this technique and the associated drawing method with its broad, vigorous hatching from his teacher, Johann Georg Wille, in Paris. Schmutzer spent four years there from 1762 to 1766, a stay that was to prove crucial for his development as an artist. Having returned to Vienna in 1766, Schmutzer was appointed director of the newly founded engraving academy the same year and court engraver the year after.
The numbering on the verso would suggest that this charming portrait study has been taken from a larger sketchbook. The young woman sleeping is wearing a striped headscarf; her pretty, very feminine-looking face rests on her left hand, which is only faintly outlined. Schmutzer’s finely differentiated red chalk technique betrays his experience as a draughtsman. The background is made up of strong parallel hatching; the shining, bushy hair beneath the woman’s headscarf is rendered in a broad, freer manner. By contrast, the full face with the large closed eyes, the finely formed slim nose and the coquettish little mouth are treated more delicately. A finely graded network of cross-hatchings and individual strokes of the red chalk give the face a three-dimensional quality and produce a soft chiaroscuro. The intimacy of the portrait and the sensitive, almost delicate style make it likely that the person portrayed was someone from the artist’s close family. In this work Schmutzer combines subtle, psychological characterisation with a stylistic élan reminiscent of his great contemporary, Jean-Baptiste Greuze.