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Jean-Baptiste Müntzberger

(1794–1878, Geneva)

Section of Meadow with Common Hogweed and Blackberry Tendril. Oil on paper, mounted on canvas. 35 x 27 cm. Monogrammed. Circa 1830.

This delicate nature study offers vivid proof of the high standard of painting in the Biedermeier period, especially as it is not the work of one of its leading lights, but of a relatively unknown minor master from French-speaking Switzerland. All the same, Müntzberger studied under the French historical, genre and portrait painter Georges Pierre Paul Joseph Chaix (1784–1834) and the landscape and genre painter Adam Töpffer (1766–1847), both of whom worked in Geneva.

Displaying accurate brushwork, the artist has depicted the stem and leaves of the common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) as they rise up out of the tangle of meadow flowers and shrubs. Typical features of the plant, such as the strikingly large leaf sheaths and umbrella-shaped umbels, are rendered with botanical precision. An unruly blackberry tendril forces its way through the undergrowth, while the blossoms of the wild flowers are subtly but effectively picked out with tiny little blue, yellow and red dabs of paint. The artist has used fewer bonding agents to render the trees in the background, sketching them freely and airily with a relatively dry brush. Meanwhile, the yellowish priming effectively shimmers through, producing a delightful contrast between the rich colours of the moist, sappy wild flowers in the foreground and the atmospheric, restrained colouring of the wood. The delicate blue of the slightly cloudy sky lends the landscape a cheerful, summery note. The effect is one of a devotional tribute to the eternal, unbridled forces of nature.

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