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Maria Katharina Prestel

(1747 Nuremberg – 1794 London)

A Wooded Landscape Under a Stormy Sky (“Vue du Côte de Stralenberger Hof près le Village d’Oberrode près Francfort sur le Maijn”). Aquatint etching in blackish green. 56.5 x 42.5 cm. (1784). Schwaighofer II, 77; Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel 2214.

The Nuremberg painter and engraver Maria Katharina Höll was Johann Gottlieb Prestel’s most gifted pupil and, in 1772, she became his wife. Maria Katharina bore him four children – all of whom went on to become artists – and was also his most important collaborator. Yet her role in the work of the studio was far from subordinate, as she developed into an internationally esteemed reproductive engraver in her own right. The couple specialized in making reproductive prints after paintings and drawings of old masters and contemporaries, which were mainly executed in the recently introduced aquatint technique and were distinguished by a high degree of technical mastery.

Maria Katharina must have been a determined woman in private life as well. In 1786 she divorced her husband – an unusual thing to do at the time – and moved to London, which in the late 18th century was a flourishing centre of printmaking. Her industry, ambition and artistic prestige led to her being employed by such leading publishers as John Boydell and Molteno Colnaghi
while enabling her to assert herself as an independent artist in England as well.

The present large-format aquatint etching reproduces a painting by a well-known fellow artist of Katharina’s, the Frankfurt landscape painter Christian Georg Schütz the Elder (1718–1791), and owes its power to the subtle application of the aquatint technique in order to capture the mood and various tonal and light values of the original. The towering trees are picturesquely forbidding. Individual branches and leaves gleam brightly out of the dark, dense foliage. The stormy sky with its leaden rain clouds is shown to great dramatic effect. A shepherd and his flock hastily seek shelter from the gathering storm, while a travelling couple in the foreground continue on their way with apparent unconcern. The soft, finely gradated aquatint grain lends the portrayal a soft, velvety lustre, creating a suggestive evocation of pastoral life.

A very fine, rich and nuanced trial proof before letters. With margins around the platemark. Minor ageing, otherwise in impeccable condition.

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