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A Stag Caught by a Pack of Hounds. Pen and black and brown ink over chalk. 28.4 x 43 cm. Circa 1750–55.
Johann Elias Ridinger, an animal painter, engraver and print publisher, is a central figure of the Baroque period in Augsburg. The son of a talented draughtsman, he was taught the trade by Christoph Resch in Ulm and Johann Falch in Augsburg. On the recommendation of Gabriel Spitzel, a painter from Augsburg, Ridinger succeeded around 1715 in gaining entry to the court of Count Metternich in Regensburg, where he spent three years honing his skills as an animal painter by joining in hunts and making studies in the riding school. Around 1718/19 he returned to Augsburg, where he became a student under Georg Philipp Rugendas at the academy of the free imperial city. After completing his apprenticeship he founded his own art publishing company, which issued most of his prints. In 1759 he was made director of the Augsburg Academy.
Ridinger was an indefatigable draughtsman who produced a vast printed oeuvre comprising some 1,600 engravings after his own compositions and designs by other artists. It was Ridinger’s hunting scenes, in particular, which gained him a reputation during his lifetime. The special charm of this pictorial genre lies in the successful symbiosis between hunting scenes portrayed with great expertise and accuracy and a vividly observed natural setting full of astounding detail.
The present powerful study sheet is taken from a sketchbook and probably arose in connection with the series of engravings entitled Die par force Jagd des Hirschen... made around 1750–55. One of Ridinger’s principal graphic works, it is an exemplary illustration of the genre of hunting scenes. The drawing radiates the unbridled vigour and intense spontaneity of the initial idea. Ridinger has portrayed the climax of the hunt in a feverish, dramatically impulsive style. Struggling in the throes of death, the exhausted stag makes a desperate but futile attempt to shake off the pack of bloodthirsty hounds which have pounced on it in a tangled fury. Discernible through the dense undergrowth are hunters on horseback who come galloping onto the scene. Ridinger has executed the main elements of the composition in black chalk and then elaborated them in greater detail using pen and brown ink in an astonishingly free and spontaneous manner. Highlights and corrections have been added in black here and there, thus injecting greater vitality into the drawing. The hasty strokes of the pen and the pulsating energy of the scene suggest that the artist made the drawing at great speed on the spot.