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Josef Abel

(1764 Aschach – 1818 Vienna)

Mother with Two Children in a Pleading Pose. Etching. 20.6 x 16 cm. 1800. Andresen 11 III; Meyer, Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon I, 21, 12 I (of II); Andresen 12.

Josef Abel studied at the Vienna Academy from 1783 onwards and was a pupil of Heinrich Füger. On the advice of his teacher he devoted himself to historical painting and won the gold medal for his picture Daedalus and Icarus in 1794. From 1801 to 1807 the artist lived in Rome, where he produced works modelled on those of the High Renaissance masters while pursuing his education as a historical painter. During this period he enjoyed friendly relations with the landscape artist Johann Christian Reinhart. After his return to Vienna, Abel cultivated a Neo-classical style of historical painting inspired by Füger, which was devoted almost exclusively to themes of antiquity. While Abel’s paintings frequently have something dry and dogmatic about them, his printed work reveals a quite different aspect of his talent. It was Abel’s etchings, in particular, which estab­lished his reputation at the time. This is exemplified by the vivacity and deftness of treatment in the present work. The portrayal of a young woman with two children, her hand stretched out to beg, radiates an overwhelming simplicity; only on closer inspection does the graphical sophistication of the work become apparent. Abel employs a refined, intricate and transparent etching technique to produce a skilful interplay between the multiple hatching patterns. Straightforward parallel lines contrast with fine stipplings, strokes and cross-hatchings of varying density. The outcome is a lively, vibrant surface pattern that captures the play of the light with great subtlety and sensitivity. The gentle melancholy that permeates the work is reminiscent of the etchings by Angelika Kauffmann created at the same time.

A superb, delicate, early impression with even margins, before the changing of the date. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent, unrestored condition.

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