1779 – Vienna – 1843
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Alexander besucht den Diogenes – Diogenes in his Barrel with Alexander and his Generals 1810
etching and aquatint on wove paper; 214 x 305 mm (8 3/8 x 12 1/16 inches)
Printmaking in the Age of Goethe, British Museum, London, 1994, no. 53 (describes a first state before the added number 16 at top left)
A fine impression impression of the first state; in excellent condition; trimmed on or just within the platemark but retaining a fillet of blank paper beyond the borderline all round.
The son of a poor Bohemian workman, Carl Russ entered the drawing classes at the Vienna Academy at the age of fourteen in 1793. Two years later he continued his studies at the school of historical drawing that was part of the academy. There he was taught by Hubert Maurer. Despite some successes with ambitious history paintings, Russ had to fight with severe financial difficulties. This only changed when he was appointed Kammermaler by the young Archduke Johann in 1810. The archduke’s interests in the history of Austria and the House of Habsburg led to the commission of comprehensive cycles of both paintings and drawings. His patron further arranged Russ’s appointment to curator of the imperial painting collection of the Belvedere Palace in 1821, a position he help until his death.
Artistically, Russ’s oeuvre is divided between a two period. The present print belongs to the first, before his employ by the archduke. It is dominated by subjects taken from classical history and mythology. In the second period under Archduke Johann, Russ’s work focused nearly exclusively on the history of Austria.
The scene with Diogenes and Alexander belongs to a series of nineteen prints with mythological, allegorical, and religious subjects, issued by the Viennese publisher Artaria in 1810 or 1811. They were re-published by Frauenholz in Nuremberg in 1816. The series is testament to Russ’s highly remarkable classical learning. His biographer Eduard Melly (Carl Russ: Umriss eines Künstlerlebens, Vienna 1844) reports that he read all the classical authors from the Greek historian Herodotus to the Byzantine princess and scholar Anna Comnena. He was obsessed with books and was known to have often bought them instead of clothes, ultimately ending up with owning a classical library comprised of between 500 and 600 volumes.