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Jonas Umbach

(circa 1624–1693, Augsburg)

Landscape with a Withered Tree. Etching. 10 x 15.4 cm. Nagler, from 170, Haas 238.

The painter, draughtsman and etcher, Jonas Umbach, was the son of a brass-worker of the same name who was caretaker to the Fuggers in Augsburg. No precise details of his training are known, but the first drawings he made around 1645 indicate that he was familiar with Dutch art. Nor is there any documentary evidence of a visit to Italy. Umbach possibly derived his motifs from prints by Dutch Italianates. If Umbach did indeed go to Italy, it must have been between 1645 and 1652, because he was given citizenship of the city of Augsburg in 1653. Throughout his life Umbach was mainly active in his native city, where he quickly achieved considerable fame. He was appointed painter to the Apostolic Chamber and was a member of the city’s Grand Council. He distinguished himself as a painter of historical scenes and was a prolific draughtsman and etcher. Seen through modern eyes, Umbach’s reputation rests primarily on his landscape drawings. These are not realistic reproductions but carefully composed ideal landscapes which the artist created in ever-changing variations. The sublime solitude of nature and the transience of earthly things appear to have exerted a particular fascination for him.

The present scene, at the centre of which stands a withered tree with grotesquely contorted branches, likewise adheres to this concept of a carefully arranged imaginary landscape. The left half of the picture with the coniferous trees and dense undergrowth appears impenetrable, while in the right half a hunter and his dogs make their way down a path leading into the distance. The bizarre appearance of the dead tree imbues the scene with a natural lyricism bordering on the mysterious that is reminiscent of the great Dutchman, Hercules Seghers. A very fine, crisp impression, trimmed to the platemark. Minimal traces of handling, otherwise in perfect condition.

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