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Girl Reading. Graphite, brown and red chalk, in an oval frame, composed of various pieces of paper and mounted on laid paper by the artist himself. 16.5 x 13.8 cm. Inscribed, signed and dated in the artist’s own hand: "Drawn from life by G. Dillis 1789."
Portraits occupy a small but exclusive place in the extensive drawn œuvre of Johann Georg von Dillis. They feature children, members of the inner family circle, friends and acquaintances as well as studies of peasants and other folk types. Many of these works are of a purely private nature and were never intended for public display or sale. From an artistic point of view, however, these portrait drawings, most of which were done in the late 1780s and 1790s, have a timeless effect owing to the freshness and immediacy of their artistic vision. Deserving of special mention in this connection are the psychologically sensitive and brilliantly observed portraits of his younger brother Johann Cantius (1779–1856), for whom Dillis had a special affection (see exhibition catalogue Johann Georg von Dillis. Die Kunst des Privaten, edited by Barbara Hardtwig, Munich-Hamburg 2003/04).
This intimate and delicately handled portrayal of a girl reading is a valid example of Dillis’s portrait art at the time. The small, oval-framed, half-length portrait shows a girl about eight years of age engrossed in a book. Her soft, childish face with its long, wavy, undressed hair falling over her shoulders is shown from the front, turned slightly to the right. The lightness of the line work makes clear that this is a spontaneous sketch done from life. Dillis has accurately observed the posture of the girl, who is concentrating on the book she is holding in both hands, apparently completely oblivious to the outside world. The sweetness of the child’s face is heightened by the delicate, sparing use of coloured chalk, which effectively brings out the vibrant warmth of the complexion and the colouring of the chestnut-brown hair. The soft, pink-lipped mouth is rendered with great delicacy. The identity of the girl is unknown. She may have been a member of one of the distinguished families to which Dillis had access in his capacity as an art teacher.