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Johan Frederik Clemens

(1748 Gollnow – 1831 Copenhagen)

Ossian’s Swansong. Engraving. 31.7 x 22.9 cm. 1787. Not in Nagler, Heller-Andresen or Le Blanc.

This fascinating, atmospherically intense portrait of the blind poet Ossian is based on a painting by the neoclassical Danish painter, Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard, which was made around 1782 and is now in Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. The painting is an early illustration of the enthusiasm for Ossian which swept through late 18th century Europe like a tidal wave. The allegedly Celtic epic poem Songs of Ossian, which in fact was written in 1762/63 by the Scottish author, James Macpherson
(1736–1796), was translated into numerous languages, its world of dark, mystic ideas being very much in tune with the spirit of the times. Johan Frederik Clemens has brilliantly transferred Abildgaard’s painting to the medium of printmaking using a versatile and highly differentiated engraving technique
which convincingly captures the intense expressiveness of Abildgaard’s original.

Johann Frederik Clemens, who hailed from Germany, was one of the most successful engravers of his time. Having been trained by Johann Martin Preisler, he spent several years studying in Paris, Geneva, Berlin and London. In Paris, where Clemens stayed from 1773–1777, he was greatly influenced by the elegant French style and enjoyed the patronage of Johann Georg Wille. After returning to Copenhagen, Clemens was appointed court engraver in 1779. Another journey abroad in 1788 took him to Berlin, where he stayed for four years and became close friends with such famous artists as Johann Gottfried Schadow, Christian Bernhard Rode and Daniel Nicolaus Chodowiecki. In 1786 he was made a member in absentia of the Copenhagen Academy, later becoming a well respected and influential representative of this institution. From 1813 Clemens was a professor of engraving at the academy and through his teaching contributed to the spread of printmaking in Denmark.

A very fine, crisp and contrasting impression with thread margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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