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Johann Christian Klengel

(1751 Kesselsdorf – 1824 Dresden)

A Winter Landscape with Children Tobogganing. Etching. 17.2 x 24.1 cm.

The landscape painter and etcher Johann Christian Klengel was born in Kesselsdorf near Dresden into a peasant family. He apprenticed himself to Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, who regarded his pupil almost like an adoptive son and in whose house he lived from 1768 until Dietrich’s death in 1774. Under his mentor’s influence Klengel turned to landscape painting and also tried his hand at the art of etching.

As a landscape painter Klengel was soon considered to be one of the most significant representatives of his trade in Germany. As early as 1777 he was admitted to membership of the Dresden Academy and proved to be an influential teacher in the years that followed. Wholly in tune with the sentimental taste of his time, Klengel was a master of the idyllic, pastoral landscape. Goethe was a great admirer of the artist and an eager collector of his works. Although the longed-for Italian tour, which the artist undertook from 1790 to 1792, provided a rich harvest of studies, his encounter with the Mediterranean landscape did not prove to be a formative experience. Instead, Klengel spent the next few years intensely preoccupied with the rendering of light and atmosphere in all their variety, ultimately becoming the precursor of Romantic mood painting as practised by Caspar David Friedrich in Dresden from 1800 onwards.

Klengel was also a tireless etcher, producing more than two hundred prints. Nagler and Heller-Andresen have described his extensive œuvre in no more than perfunctory terms, and the absence of a precise and comprehensive list of his works makes a chronology of his prints difficult. From the 1770s onwards Klengel devoted himself steadily to etching. In time he develop­ed such a great degree of skill that he was able to jot down suitable motifs in the open air directly on to small, specially prepared copperplates. Klengel’s etchings are distinguished by the immediacy and simplicity of the subject chosen. As in the present print, the artist uses modest means to generate an intense atmo­sphere and closeness to nature. It is this down-to-earthness that makes his art so beguiling. The bare branches of a tree tossed by the wind lend the winter scene a touch of melancholy. In the right foreground a man visibly struggles to draw a sledge laden with firewood, while children jubilantly slide down a nearby hill on home-made toboggans. The contrast between the dark strip of land in the foreground and the bright whiteness of the snow-covered hillock is rendered effectively. Klengel has not idealized the simple scene in a genre-like manner, but presents a reflection of the joys and tribulations of everyday life.

A superb, tonal and contrasting impression with margins around the platemark. Minor foxing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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