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Albertine and Franz Alexander von Kleist with their children. Pen and point of brush in gray, brown and reddish-brown over black crayon, on parchment prepared with a white chalk ground. 8 x 9.6 cm. Signed bottom left: W. Jury fec. (1796).
This sensitive drawing by Wilhelm Jury shows Franz Alexander von Kleist (1769–1797) with his wife Albertine and their two children in the poet’s study. An intimate family portrait, it served as the preparatory drawing for Friedrich Wilhelm Bollinger’s engraved frontispiece to Franz von Kleist’s work Das Glück der Ehe (The Happiness of Wedlock) published in Berlin by Friedrich Vieweg in 1796.
Franz Alexander von Kleist, a distant relative of the more famous Heinrich von Kleist, was born in Potsdam in 1769. He joined the army at the age of fifteen and was stationed in Halberstadt in 1788. There he met Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, the prominent Enlightenment thinker, who encouraged the young man’s awakening poetic ambitions, no doubt at first because of his family background, though he later became a close confidant and fatherly friend. Kleist’s first publications date from the years 1788/89; his Gegengedicht zu Schillers Göttern Griechenlands (Counter Poem to Schiller’s Gods of Greece) attracted considerable attention and propelled him to the very heart of the contemporary literary scene. At this time he established contacts with other noted literary figures such as Gottfried August Bürger, Johann Heinrich Campe and Christoph Martin Wieland. While his output consisted mainly of political and philosophical writings on popular issues of the day, what most interested this aristocratic dilettante were themes relating to love and marriage, the role of the family and its relationship to the state. In 1792, Kleist married Albertine von Junck, the daughter of the Prussian envoy to Lisbon. He decided to relinquish his post in Berlin on the staff of the Prussian Foreign Minister von Hertzberg and withdraw into private life. In 1793, together with his young wife, he settled at the Falkenhagen estate near Frankfurt an der Oder. In rural seclusion and marital bliss Kleist sought to live out the utopian idyll in practice. Texts such as Zamori oder eine Philosophie der Liebe in 10 Gesängen (Zamori or a Philosophy of Love in 10 Cantos; 1793); Das Glück der Liebe (The Happiness of Love; 1794); and, finally, Das Glück der Ehe (The Happiness of Wedlock; 1796) reflect the circumstances of the poet’s own life.
In the last-mentioned work, which was dedicated to his wife Albertine and for which this family portrait of Jury’s served as the frontispiece, Franz von Kleist extols marriage and the bringing up of the offspring it produces as the only true model for life. Wilhelm Jury’s picture, with its loving rapport between husband and wife and carefree children, conveys an image of perfect marital bliss, just as Kleist had outlined in his book. Jury, a miniaturist, draughtsman and engraver from Berlin who was known mainly for his finely executed portraits and detailed book illustrations, was evidently regarded by the publisher, Friedrich Vieweg, as the ideal person to execute this tender family portrait. The draughtsman has rendered the physiognomies of the individual family members in delightful manner and minute detail: the youthful Franz von Kleist is shown with flowing, shoulder-length hair, his gaze lovingly directed at his wife, while his left arm tenderly embraces his elder son, Franz Casimir. The likeness of the writer clearly bears elements of portraiture, as a lithograph published by Winkelmann & Söhne in Berlin proves. Albertine von Kleist is seated on an armchair opposite her husband. On her lap she holds her daughter Adelaide, born in 1794, who is stretching out her little arms to her father. Jury’s family idyll evidently found such favour that the stipple engraving made from it appeared not only as a frontispiece, but also as a separate portrait complete with the engraved names of the persons shown, which here accompanies the drawing in a splendid contemporary impression (fig. 1).