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Joseph Selleny

(1824 Vienna – 1875 Inzersdorf)

An Imaginary Mountainous Landscape. Pen and brown ink, brown wash; framing line with point of brush and brown ink. 12 x 19.3 cm. “Jos. Selleny” inscribed on the mounting paper.

The painter, watercolourist and printmaker, Joseph Selleny, studied under Thomas Ender and Franz Steinfeld at the Vienna Academy. Study trips subsequently took him through Tyrol and Lombardy to Venice. Endowed with a scholarship from the Vienna Academy, he lived and worked in Rome and Naples in 1854/55. Selleny’s talent earned him the patronage of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, the Emperor’s brother. This connection enabled him to circumnavigate the globe on board the Austrian frigate Novara, a journey which lasted from April 1857 to August 1859. During this time he produced around two thousand watercolours and studies of ethnographical and natural histo­rical interest, a considerable number of which are now in the Albertina Graphic Arts Collection and the Österreichische Gale­­rie Belevedere in Vienna. Selleny’s career later took a tragic turn. In the 1860s he was a successful freelance artist and garden architect in Vienna, but he suffered from a nervous disorder, of which he died at the psychiatric hospital in Inzersdorf near Vienna at the age of fifty-one.

The present imaginary landscape has been executed in a very agitated but subtly nuanced pen and brush technique, which creates a wonderful sense of mood and atmosphere. Its surreal character notwithstanding, the scene is probably based on impressions the artist gathered during his world voyage in South America, especially in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Huge storm clouds obstruct the view of the towering mountain peak on the horizon. The setting sun, sketched with delicate strokes of the pen, appears infinitesimally small in the face of the threa­tening force of nature. Despite the small format the landscape is alive with a tremendous, feverish energy, as if Selleny had give shape to a vision of fear.

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