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Poplars against a Light Cloudy Sky. Black and white chalk on blue laid paper. 20.7 x 26.5 cm. Ca. 1820.
The nature studies of the painter, gallery director and Bavarian art oµcial, Johann Georg von Dillis, occupy a very special place in the panorama of German art around 1800. Few artists of his epoch succeeded, as he did, in conveying such a direct and timeless representation of nature unencumbered by art theory. Dillis was an extremely productive and highly gifted draughtsman, who by combining different drawing techniques achieved an individual and extremely refined style of his own. All his life the artist used high-quality, hand-made, rag-based papers, which brought out the advantages of his drawing technique to the full. Dillis also liked to use coloured papers, which enabled him to capture accurately the nuances of atmosphere and light. Thus, in the period around 1820, he preferred to use blue-tone papers for nature impressions and cloud studies (see Hinrich Sieveking, "Im Unvollendeten vollendet. Der Zeichner und Aquarellist Dillis", Johann Georg von Dillis. Landschaft und Menschenbild, Munich-Dresden 1991–92, pp. 60–65).
Cloud studies as a scientific phenomenon had been the subject of empirical investigation since the late 18th century, and the English researcher Luke Howard had been the first to publish a classification of the individual phenomena in 1803. In the years between 1819 and 1824 Dillis was also intensely occupied with the portrayal of clouds. The fleeting nature of their appearance demanded exceptional speed of observation and great technical skill. Many of these studies were done at the window of his office in Munich’s Galeriestrasse. Dillis observed the passing cloud formations with a gratifyingly sober, almost scientific objectivity, which is typical of his attitude to nature (fig. 1).
Although clouds play only a subordinate role in the present drawing, they do a lot to make this intimate and wonderfully vivid glimpse of nature true to life. The bent trunks of the poplars that fill up the right half of the composition are brushed by a light breeze. Their outlines are accurately indicated by soft chalk lines, and in some places the artist has increased the pressure on his chalk to indicate areas of dark shadow. By wetting the chalk with a brush he achieves smooth transitions which wonderfully characterize the tones of the foliage and the play of light and shade. In the left half of the picture, which is largely left empty, the fleetingly indicated outlines of the clouds chased by the wind are a pleasure to the eye and convey the impression of endless spatial depth. The sheet has been preserved in a state of astonishing freshness: the blue tone of the paper has retained all of its original glow, while the porous white chalk, with which the clouds and individual details are drawn, lies like powder on the paper and is almost like relief. There is a delightful game of hide-and-seek in the bushes in the foreground between the two soaring tree trunks, where Dillis has sketched in with a few deft strokes a passing traveller with a stick over his shoulder.
Verso bears the stamp of the Historical Association of Upper Bavaria.