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Max Klinger

(1857 Leipzig – 1920 Großjena near Naumburg)

The Artist in the Attic. Etching and aquatint on chamois-coloured laid paper. 15.9 x 7.4 cm. Circa 1879–82. Dated and signed “25. 7. (19)13 M. Klinger” beneath the image. Singer 261.

This evocative work belongs to the artist’s early period and in all probability shows the Norwegian painter, Christian Krohg, with whom Klinger enjoyed a close friendship. According to Singer, it is an early etching made in Brussels, where the artist spent six months in 1879. However, two surviving preliminary studies for the etching in ink pen over pencil or chalk are dated 1882. At this time Klinger was living and working in Berlin for a few years, so a somewhat later date of origin appears more plausible. It was during this period that the artist first became acquainted with works of French Impressionism at the home of the collectors, Carl and Felicie Bernstein, and simultaneously discovered his love of French naturalist literature and authors such as Émile Zola, Gustave Flaubert and the Goncourt brothers.

The present etching testifies to this experience. The book in the foreground, entitled Manette Salomon, is the programmatic artist’s novel by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. A young artist sits freezing in a barren attic, the collar of his coat turned up, intently contemplating the painting on the easel. On the floor next to him are a travel bag and a few items such as a glass carafe and the Goncourts’ novel. The furnishings of the makeshift studio are spartan. An iron washstand and a simple bed illustrate the painter’s straitened living conditions. The young Klinger must have been familiar with such conditions himself as he took his first steps towards artistic recognition. Displaying sensitive powers of observation and subtle draughts­manship, the artist produces an intense atmosphere and a distinctive psychological characterisation that are all but symbolic of the privations of a young artist’s life.

The etching is very rare. Singer was aware of only five undated impressions. The one on offer here has the handwritten inscription “Erster Druck” in the lower margin; the signature and the later date 1913 in pencil were probably inserted to mark a special occasion. A very fine, delicate and rich impression with full margins. Slightly foxed, minor ageing, otherwise in excellent, pristine condition. From the collection of Werner Eberhard Müller (Lugt 5075).

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