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Two Masons at Work. Pencil, black, reddish-brown and white chalk on brown paper, heightened with white. 45.5 x 30.8 cm. Monogrammed and dated: O. Gr. (18)94.
Together with Adolph von Menzel and Max Klinger, the painter and graphic artist Otto Greiner was undoubtedly one of the outstanding German draughtsmen of the last decades of the 19th century. In 1891 Greiner, who had initially trained as a lithographer and draughtsman in Leipzig, went to Florence and Rome, where he met Max Klinger, whose example was to exert a decisive influence on his further artistic development. In 1898 Greiner moved to Rome, where he was to remain for a longer period while still maintaining close, friendly relations with his older friend and artistic mentor, Klinger.
The present drawing is a convincing proof of Greiner’s graphic bravura and was probably done directly from life. It shows two masons, who are concentrating closely on their work. One is a tall young man who carries on his shoulders a wooden hod, which is being carefully loaded with bricks by an older colleague wearing an apron. The pose of the young man with feet set wide apart betrays strength and physical effort, as his muscular torso is bent back against the weight of the load. The look of concentration on the older man’s face is rendered in masterly fashion. The head is bent slightly backwards to see if the load is held firmly in place, while the strong, sinewy arm and wonderfully drawn bony hand indicate advanced age.
With broad, brisk strokes Greiner has accurately captured the outline and posture of the two men. The details of clothing, such as shoes and trousers, have also been drawn in a spontaneous, summary manner. For the rendering of faces, limbs and drapery, on the other hand, the artist uses very thin and sharp chalks that facilitate an extremely subtle and detailed drawing technique. The intricate cross-hatching in white stands out effectively against the dark paper background, creating a graphic pattern of the greatest delicacy as well as suggestive chiaroscuro contrasts. With an unerring eye for the essential, Greiner has captured a fleeting moment of the working process on paper. The impression of lifelikeness and immediacy is reinforced by the original mise-en-page: The two male figures have been moved from the centre of the picture and occupy the upper left part of the sheet. The hod-bearer seems to be pausing only for a moment before vanishing from our field of vision.
The present drawing is a preparatory study for the Diplom für Zimmerobermeister Handwerck in Leipzig, a drawing in coloured chalks done by the artist in 1894. Other studies are kept in the collection of the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig (see H.W. Singer, Zeichnungen von Otto Greiner, Leipzig 1912, p.13–14).