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A Satyr’s Family outside a Rock Cave. Pen and black ink and watercolour. 25.5 x 19.1 cm. Signed and dated: “Töpfer 1791”.
This whimsically observed scene from antiquity is remarkable for its refined execution and highly finished composition. Toepfer has portrayed the dolce far niente of the satyr’s family in a succinct and entertaining manner. He has taken meticulous care in rendering details like the weathered masonry and the rocky cave as well as attributes such as the ancient wine jug, a drinking bowl and the pumpkins strewn haphazardly on the ground. A boy satyr raises his little arms in astonishment, while another lies on an outcrop of rock whiling away the time.
Wolfgang Adam Toepfer, a Swiss painter of landscapes and genre scenes, began his career as an engraver in Geneva and was active in Lausanne from 1786. After continuing his training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he devoted himself to watercolour painting on the advice of his friend, Jean-Thomas Thibault. His initial stay in Paris was followed by two others, in 1789 and 1791. It was in the latter year that he painted the present watercolour, which anticipates the Empire style in its classical-style idiom. Following his return to Switzerland, Toepfer initially worked as a drawing teacher and portraitist in Geneva before embracing his genuine vocation as a landscape painter. He did so at the instigation of his artist friend, Pierre-Louis de la Rive, with whom he explored his native countryside, thereby becoming a precursor of open-air painting. Toepfer’s work was well known to the general public in the early 19th century. His aristocratic clients included the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia and the French Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, to whom he gave drawing lessons in 1807. Wolfgang Toepfer was the father of the famous novelist and caricaturist, Rodolphe Toepfer (1799–1846).