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View of the Sea from a Picturesque Grotto with an Archipelago of Volcanic Islands. Oil on paper. 28 x 36.7 cm. “Zur Oper Alcidor entworfen von Gerst” inscribed in pen and ink on the verso probably in the artist’s own hand. Circa 1825.
Johann Karl Jacob Gerst, who began work as an assistant painter at the Königliche Schauspiele in 1815, received a permanent position as royal scene painter in Berlin in 1818 and in that capacity executed a number of designs by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in addition to his own stage designs. Gerst’s contemporaries appreciated his “original compositional talent” and “deeply poetical, artistic mind” (Thieme-Becker). The present work is a stage design Gerst made for Gaspare Spontini’s opera Alcidor. The magic opera with ballet was premiered on 23 May 1825 in the Royal Opera House in Berlin. Schinkel joined in the stage designs and supplied, amongst other things, the “rock cave” and temple ruins for the initial decoration. Schinkel’s design, which is now in the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin (inv. no. SM Th.3 = SM B.19 (old)), presents the stage scene for the first act and is characterised as follows: “A wide rock cave. To the rear of the spectator chimney-like volcanic chasms. Several anvils in front of same. Cascading rocky streams on the right. Temple ruins towards the background. To the side in the foreground a piece of rock that can serve as a seat” (Gaspare Spontini [Komp.]/ Karl Alexander Herklots et al. [Text]: Alcidor Zauber-Oper in 3 Abtheilungen, mit Ballett, Berlin 1825, p. 5).
The present design by Gerst may well have provided the set for the third scene of Act Three. Here the scene changes “into a gruesome desert. Naked rocks, with viable paths, form a cave in the foreground and the confines of a lake in the background. The moon’s weak glow alone illuminates the scene” (op. cit. p. 62). The deeply romantic mood has a captivating effect. Gerst evokes an intense atmosphere using swift and accurate strokes of the brush. Warm flickering torchlight illuminates the interior of the grotto and forms an effective and extremely evocative contrast to the cool blue tones of the sea and the bizarre rock formations on the horizon.Contact us for further information